As with many questions in life, there is a simple answer. The short answer to this question is a resounding “yes”. You may think it could never happen to your child, but predators online have become exceptionally smart with their deceptive ways.
The internet has provided numerous ways for young people to interact with their peers, friends, and families. They can use social media platforms to connect with their friends and meet new people. Unfortunately, there are adults online who don’t have the best intentions. According to the F.B.I., there are an estimated 500 000 predators active online daily, with over 50 percent of the victims of online sexual exploitation being between the ages of 12 and 15. While using social media, it is estimated that around 40 percent of children remove their privacy settings to meet new people online or attract friends or followers.
There are many ways that predators operate online. Most predators lurk on popular social media sites with a fake profile. They will contact a victim pretending to be someone of their age and attempt to build trust by having numerous conversations with them, using terms like “I understand you”, and “you can trust me with anything”. This is known as “grooming”. As the predator feels they have formed a strong enough connection with the victim, they will start trying to coerce the victim into sending compromising or sexual pictures or videos, or even attempt to meet them in real life.
Some predators may approach children pretending to be a company, such as a modelling agency. They will tell victims that they “have the look we want” or something similar. They will then convince the child to attend a “casting” that isn’t real. Unfortunately, if the child agrees to meet them and shows up to the fake event, it may result in an abduction.
It’s very unlikely that your child will know when they are being groomed, and therefore, they won’t tell you about their experience. So, what are the signs that a child is being groomed online?
Your child may start to withdraw from spending time with friends or family. They may want to spend most of their time alone in their room and could develop an obsession with being online. This could lead to them becoming angry or agitated when they cannot be online, and they might become secretive with what they are doing online. Another key sign that your child is engaging with someone they know you wouldn’t approve of, is that they will either quickly change screens or switch off their device when someone else enters the room.
Keeping kids safe from online predators can seem like a daunting task, but it is entirely essential. Start by engaging in conversations about internet safety with your child and let them know about some of the potential risks of communicating with strangers online. Tell them that they should never, ever provide anyone online that they do not know in real life with any personal information, including their full name, contact information, like phone number or email address, your home address and even the school that they go to. Remind your kids that they should not send any pictures of themselves that they would feel uncomfortable with you seeing. Tell them that if an adult ever asks them to keep a secret, or to keep their online activity a secret, that is a major red flag, and they should come to you immediately. Finally, tell your children that they should never, ever agree to meet someone that they met online, especially if they are asked to go alone.
Additionally, you can set up parental controls on their devices. Most devices have built in parental controls and many social media platforms also contain restrictions and parental controls. If you have parental controls in place but you still feel like your child isn’t protected enough or they are finding ways around your restrictions, you can implement CyberSharp Protect. CyberSharp Protect is a parental control platform powered by Bark Technologies that monitors your child’s online behaviour over 30+ apps and platforms. Without being invasive, the platform will alert you to any concerning behaviour, including messages and posts containing profanity, sexual conversations, images, and videos, pornography, cyberbullying, and suicidal ideation.