A lot of the information that can be found out there is woefully outdated. Likewise, much of the information about protecting children from online predators is from another Internet era, before smart phones meant that the Internet, GPS and hi-definition audio/video capabilities, were right in our pockets.
In searching for statistics, what we have found (that wasn’t from a bygone era) was that online predators tend to glean a lot of information from social networking sites:
In 82% of online sex crimes against minors, the offender used the victim’s social networking site to gain information about the victim’s likes and dislikes.*
65% of online sex offenders used the victim’s social networking site to gain home and school information about the victim.*
But the specific means of gleaning information is less important than the prolific, yet largely unwitting sharing of information with strangers. Predators may seek out children who are participating in attention-seeking behaviours as a way of finding connections with others. Sadly, these kids are generally the ones least likely to have a concerned adult to turn to, and less likely to report solicitation. These targeted kids may also not wish to report the behaviour, as they may simply be glad for the interest and may be naïve about its nature.
Protecting Children On- and Off-line
Tips to reduce the risk of children being victimised generally centre around monitoring and controlling their access to the Internet in an age-appropriate way. But not all solicitation happens online, so more needs to be done to prepare kids to identify the signs. For parents, it is essential to make sure that their kids know from an early age what is the appropriate information to share with others, even people who appear to be friends (as this is what predators pretend to be).
Establish rules about when to:
- Send or post photos
- Give contact or identifying information about themselves or family
Let kids know it’s best to:
- Socialise online with kids only if they are friends in real life
- Avoid personal discussions with strangers online, especially conversations involving sex, violence, and illegal activities
As older kids become eligible for membership of social networking sites, they may wish to meet in person some of the people they have met online. It is important that a parent or guardian accompanies the teen to any first meeting, to determine if it’s safe and age-appropriate.
The idea of establishing rules is not to make the child fearful of strangers, but to instill in them the ability to scrutinise the communication with a healthy sense of caution. There is a saying that is popular in the security industry: “Trust but verify”. This means not blindly accepting someone’s words at face value, but doing additional research to determine if the communication is indeed trustworthy.
Parental concern versus independence
We understand that some of the rules might be perceived by the teens as limiting their independence. However, good parenting (or mentoring) is about finding the balance between providing children with the tools to eventually become independent adults, and spending enough time with them that they feel loved and protected.
A parent can safely lean towards being overprotective when the children are younger and until they can understand and internalise the reasons for the rules. Teenagers and adults alike are targeted by confidence schemes and scams, so learning to avoid them and protect their privacy will serve them well throughout their life.
Establishing a good rapport and open lines of communication with kids is perhaps the most important thing you can do to protect them from predators. Social engineering relies on creating a strong feeling of fear or trust. When talking about such an important topic it’s important to maintain a non-confrontational way of communicating with your child about the issue.
ESET Parental Control for Android allows you to impose limits on your child’s online time and allows you to see what they are up to when surfing. Kids can also talk to their parents about which sites should or should not be banned and ask for extra permissions to access particular sites or point out suspicious behaviour they have encountered.
If a child feels comfortable discussing their experiences with a parent, without concerns about punishment or judgment, they can verify whether questionable online communications are scams or solicitation. It is important to remember that even if your children respond positively to online predators, they are still the victims in the same way that anyone who has fallen for a scam is a victim.