How to Protect Your Child from Online Predators
When it comes to protecting babies and toddlers, parents obviously focus on the immediate threats they can see. However, as children get older their worlds expand outside of the home and into the neighborhood, playground and eventually school. Add computers into the mix and it’s not surprising the task of protecting kids for most parents becomes overwhelming.
How does a parent teach their children about online predators without scaring them? What types of conversations are appropriate for each age? Of course, the goal is for kids to feel safe in the world and online as we set up proper boundaries to protect them. Yet, somehow they need to be involved in the conversation without causing too much anxiety.
Your child needs to be informed enough so they can do their part to understand and know their boundaries. Your child also needs to know that if they notice certain behaviors that you’ve taught them to look out for, they will be ready to tell you right away so you can protect your kids online.
Here are some ways to help parents educate their kids on the topic of online safety from predators. We will also share some tips on what a parents can do so that their children don’t have to worry and be overly frightened when interacting with friends on social media or when surfing the web.
Apps and websites to be aware of where online predators can view or begin to communicate with children. This can happen when kids they give out their personal contact information or allow strangers to connect with them on social media. The most popular apps that kids and teens are using include: Snapchat, TikTok, Instagram, Omegle, Discord, Houseparty, Ask.fm, VSCO, Kik, and the world’s more widely used app; Whatsapp.
How to Warn Children about The Dangers
It’s not uncommon for parents to avoid talking about these difficult subjects with their kids. The first thing you can feel good about is that there are ways to have these conversations and still remain positive. For example, when talking about bad people, it’s important to let your children know that most people are good. A positive way to bring it up is to make it personal. You can begin talking about kids they know in school. Some of them are not very kind or they may even be bullies.
Children are not dumb. They know good behavior when they see it. And they know bad. Most people are not mean. Most are not bullies or cyberbullies online, yet these people still exist. Now you can transition the conversation to adults. Some adults are this way as well, even after they grow up. But most adults who want to hurt people will pretend to be nice so they can get something they want. Your kids may know other kids like this as well.
The older your child is, the more you can tell them what these bad grown ups online are trying to do. The teach your kids the signs to be aware of so they can let you know when it happens. You can also include in the conversation about inappropriate touch even from someone close to their age. As they grow older kids need to be taught about consent and what that means.
Teach Your Children the Signs of an Online Predator
If you are uncomfortable with the word predator, especially with younger children, you can refer to them as ‘adults who want to hurt others’. Yes, even kids. They may seem nice, but they have hidden secret motives. Just like parents teach their kids to be aware of strangers outside and not get into a car with them, the signs online may be a little more subtle but obvious if you know what they’re looking for. Online predictors ask personal questions. They try to get private information from you.
The other element kids need to know is that online strangers lie about who they are, at least at first. They may pretend to be much younger than they are. They may pose as someone the same age as your child, or at least just a few years older in their late teens or early 20’s. This is especially true for teens being preyed upon.
Rule #1 is to make sure your child never gives out any personal information. This is regardless of a person’s motives. You can teach them that we don’t even tell people who call from our banks our personal information. It’s probably someone trying to steal our money. Just like there are online scams to be aware of, there are people who want to get close to kids and they shouldn’t trusted. If you are unsure if someone you know may be a child predator conduct a criminal record check.
Ban Chat Rooms
One of the most common areas that a predator will target children is an online chat room. If the predator is talking to a child in a one-on-one chat room, they can build a relationship with them. This is what you want to avoid at all costs. Public chat rooms are accessible to anyone with an Internet connection, but you can restrict your child’s access to them. Unbeknownst to most parents, the popular app TikTok can actually work as a chat room using their live stream feature.
You have the choice of blocking these websites using parental controls, or talking about them with your child. If your child promises to stay away from these types of sites, that may be sufficient as long as you have a way to check in once in a while to monitor they are not using chat rooms.
Things get more dangerous is someone your child is talking to someone in a chat room lives close by. Chats can turn into texts and the possibility of meeting. All the more vital for your child to know that anyone online may not be who they say they are. This can even happen on social media.
Help Them with Privacy Settings
If your child has a social media or online video game account, their information is readily accessible to whoever wants to see it. You can reduce this risk of possible stalking by helping your child set up secure privacy settings. Your child may not be interacting on chatroom, but there are online predictors (and predator groups) that find and share easily accessible information about where children live, play and go to school. Typically, training and helping kids with their privacy settings would include changing the settings so that only their friends can view their photos and posts. This will also block unsolicited messages from people who are not on their friends and contacts lists.
Parents need to also check their own privacy settings. Often a way for online predators to get to children is through their parents social media accounts. Consider everything you post online about yourself and your kids. Make no personal information is included or public due to lack of proper privacy settings.
This tip also includes helping your child choose a strong password. Identity theft is a common occurrence even with children and can have disastrous consequences. Teach them to use different passwords for different accounts and make them difficult to guess. Then, you will need to stress the importance of not sharing their passwords with anyone, even with their friends or significant others.
Parental Controls on Computers, Tablets and Phones
Even if you trust your child, there are still many ways that they can be manipulated online. All of your child’s computers and tablets should have some level of parental control on them. Let’s not forget that phones are little pocket computers too, and possibly the most dangerous if kids are not savvy to how predictors can access their information. There are way to protect your devices using built in parental controls that also provide resources to protect children from online predators.
Restricting use a child’s computer to a shared space will make it harder for children to access dangerous websites. Parental controls also allow parents to limited usage to specific parts of the day so that kids can’t access the internet late at night. The best parental controls also includes geo tracking and monitoring of texts and suspicious photos.
Stay Aware of Your Child’s Friends
It is a good idea to be aware of what is going on in your child’s life for multiple reasons. Being familiar with their friends will give you a heads up if they start mentioning a new name. You will be able to have a chat about who this new friend is and where they met. It may be a legitimate friend, but if this person sounds suspicious, you will be better prepared to deal with the situation. Taking the time to talk to your kids about inappropriate dangers online is the first time to implementing all of these strategies. It’s something parents and kids can and should do together. This way, no one is left in the dark.