One of the most important discussions you can have with your child is about online predators. This may be the issue you’re most worried about because it’s scary, but it’s important for you to understand the truth about predators so you know how to help your child avoid them.
Here are some common myths about predators:
- They’re all old men.
- They’re pedophiles.
- They pretend to be younger to trick kids.
- They find out where kids live and abduct them from their homes.
This is who they really are:
- Mostly men, age 26 or older – Studies show that 99% of predators are male. Female predators exist, but they are rare.
- Generally not pedophiles – Pedophiles are interested in young children, but online predators typically target teens.
- Rarely lie about being an adult – Studies show that only 5% of offenders pretend to be teens.
- Usually don’t abduct – Predators and victims discuss their plans online to meet up and have sex. The teens are aware of who they’re meeting and why.
This is what we know about the victims:
- Mostly girls, but 25% of victims are boys – Boys who are gay or questioning their sexuality are particularly at risk because they are looking for affection online that they are unable to get at home or school.
- Ages 13-15 – This is an especially vulnerable time for teens who are exploring their sexuality and looking for attention online.
- Have a history of sexual or physical abuse – Teens with a history of abuse are more likely to seek attention online and take risks.
- Engage in patterns of risky behavior – Certain behaviors make teens more vulnerable to predators, like friending unknown people online and talking to them about sex. The more risky behaviors a teen engages in online, the more at-risk they are of being targeted by a predator.
The important thing to remember about victims is it’s never their fault. Predators target vulnerable teens and exploit their natural desires for attention and affection.
Examples from the News
- A 13-year-old girl from PA ran away with a 20-year-old man she met online. Thanks to an anonymous tip, she was found after just 24 hours, traveling with the man on a bus to DC.
- A LA man was arrested after he was found in a car with two 15-year-old girls he met on the website, meetme.com. The girls told police they had sex with the man on at least four occasions.
Here are some signs of grooming you should look for. Check if your child is:
- Receiving gifts through the mail, like bus tickets, cell phones and webcams.
- Calling unknown numbers.
- Rejecting family and friends in favor of spending time online.
- Getting upset when he or she can’t get online.
- Minimizing the screen or turning off the monitor when you come into the room .
If you see any of these signs, don’t ignore them. Talk to your children. Check out what they’re doing online and who they’re talking to. Get help immediately if you suspect something is wrong.
KEEP YOUR CHILD SAFE FROM
- Talk to your child about sex and relationships – Talk to them about what makes a healthy relationship. Have an open-door policy so they will not seek answers or inappropriate relationships online.
- Keep in mind that many teens are flattered by attention from older people. Make it clear that a 22-year-old flirting with them is not flattering; it’s inappropriate.
- This type of conversation can even start with young children. Talk to them about what is OK for people to talk about online and what is not OK.
- Set a policy about meeting offline for older teens – If you think it’s okay for older teens to meet friends offline, then establish rules to make it safer. Suggested rules include:
- You have to get my permission before agreeing to meet.
- You have to go with me or another adult.
- You must meet in a public place and not leave.
- Know your child’s online friends – Encourage them not to accept friend requests from anyone they don’t already know. Ask questions about the people on their friends list, such as “How did you meet?” and “What do you talk about?”
- Teach your child the warning signs – Talk to them about grooming and ways that predators try to manipulate their victims.
- Above all, call the police if you suspect your child is talking to an online predator to prevent them from finding another victim.
- A program from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children – NetSmartz Workshop