Staying Informed and Protecting Your Child from Online Predators 

Written by Aiesha Hemeda  

Social media has implemented itself into multiple aspects of our everyday lives, it has created the opportunity for us to interact with thousands of people from a mobile device in the palm of our hands. As a result, this has also allowed thousands of people to gain access to our personal lives and information.  

With popular social media platforms such as TikTok and Snapchat being accessible and highly appealing to children and teens, it is important to be aware of, and stay informed about the potential risks and dangers that could be lurking on the internet. 

The F.B.I stated that over 50 percent of victims of online sexual exploitation are between the ages 12-15. In 2020, The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reported that there were 21.7 million reports of suspected child sexual exploitation made to their CyberTipline. 89 percent of these sexual advances reported were made through chatrooms and instant messengers. 20 percent of children between the ages of 8-11 are aware of online dangers and are afraid their personal information could be stolen by strangers. However, 40 percent of children change their privacy setting in order to attract more friends online. 

Common Tactics Used by Online Predators 

Online predators use popular social media platforms amongst teens and children in order to target and manipulate them. Often, this is done by using tactics to create an identity that would better appeal to the child, including lying about their age, likes and interests in order to establish an emotional relationship.  

Grooming: This is the process of an adult developing an inappropriate relationship with a child with the intention of gaining their trust in order to exploit, manipulate and abuse them. 

Online enticement: The act of an individual communicating with a child online with the intent of committing abduction, or a sexual offense 

Sextortion: This can happen when children are coerced or threatned by adults into sending sexually explicit or graphic information and photos.  

Phishing: Cyber criminals use this tactic by creating and sending links, emails or seemingly reputable content in order to gain access to sensitive and personal information.  

What Are The Signs To Look For?  

It is common for online predators to use fake accounts with false information about their age and pictures in order to lure children and attract them to their page. Online predators often try to isolate victims from family and friends in an effort to make them more vulnerable and susceptible to their manipulation. Predators will also try and convince your child to keep their conversations secret by using a private instant messenger and persuading the child to not tell anyone. Another sign is when predators try to coerce their victims into revealing personal information such as where they live or which school they attend. Predators will use social media stalking in order to gain intel on the personal lives of the victim, as well as their friends and family. These predators will try and desensitize sexual topics, or disguise them as compliments in order for it to appear normal. 

What You Should Do to Protect Your Child from Online Dangers 

Stay informed of the kinds of dangers your children may encounter. Knowing the tactics and platforms that internet predators use, as well as understanding the risks that come along with social media, is the first step in prevention. 

Be aware of how your child interacts with others on the internet. Monitor your child’s online interactions and how they use social media platforms. Since the internet makes us easily accessible to strangers, it is important to be aware of the kinds of accounts your child is communicating with, and sending information to. Make sure your child is aware of  when they should be using these social media platforms, as well as what kinds of content they should post. 

Know what types of platforms are appropriate for your child. Social media platforms often have guidelines and age restrictions. Making sure your child is adhering to these guidelines, and are at the correct age to use these platforms, can help to ensure they are accessing the appropriate content. 

Speak to your child about proper online safety. Educating yourself and your child about how to stay safe online can help prevent your private, personal, and sensitive information from being stolen. Inform your child to never share personal information or private photos with strangers and alert them of what signs to look for. 

Enforce effective and healthy communication. It is important for your child to be able to communicate when they feel they are at risk without fear of ridicule. Enforcing an environment where positive communication and safety is prioritized can help to prevent and counteract any potential predators.