Last month we discussed the reality that your child may be talking to a predator online. This month I want to teach you the behavior signs you may see in your child and also what to look for when checking their devices.
First, let’s discuss the behavior signs. Internet Safety 101 does a wonderful job with the following list. Pay attention if your child becomes secretive about online activities, obsessive about being online, angry when they can’t get online, receives phone calls from people you do not know, or makes calls to numbers you do not recognize. Also, if they begin receiving gifts, mail, or packages from someone you do not know, withdraw from family and friends, change screens or turn off the computer when an adult enters a room, and/or download pornography online.
Clearly, some of these behaviors can be labeled “normal” or “typical” teen behavior. What is important to note is when some of these behaviors escalate. For instance, take note if you have a rule in your home that you do random device checks, and your child/teen begins to give you pushback. It is also great to start open conversations about why they do not want you to check their devices.
Predators will target youth through games. They may establish a relationship with your child by promising to buy them things, either within the game or physical items, to send to your home. If your child begins receiving items at home that you have not purchased, this is time to have a very serious conversation, as it means the predator now has your address and access to your home.
What should you look for online when doing your random device checks? Predators will often tell their target they are the same age so their target will trust them. They almost always want to chat privately with your child. If they “meet” your child during a game, they will ask your child to move to a private chat through another app. Please teach your child NEVER to leave the app they are on to chat with someone in a private message on another app. Predators will try to get personal info from your child through subtle comments.
When checking your child’s info, be wary of anyone who has asked where your child lives, birthday, school info, neighborhood info, anything that gives away where they live, and out and go to school. Predators will also work hard to make your child feel special by telling them how beautiful, amazing, smart, etc., they are. After relationships have been established (via grooming), predators will then ask for pictures, videos, etc. Often, these requests are followed up with threats to the child/teen and/or their friends and family if the child doesn’t want to cooperate.
What can you do? Talk to your child. Consistently. Regularly. About predators and what that behavior looks like. Talk to them until they are tired of hearing it. Then talk some more. The one thing I have learned is that as much pushback as kids give us about social media safety chats, they DO hear us. Maybe not always, but many times they do listen. And as a parent, it is our job to try our best to educate and protect them from online dangers. So keep having these talks and doing your random device checks. They are your very best first line of defense.
***Please note that if a predator has contacted your child, immediately report it to your local police. No matter how “small” you think the incident may be. There may be much bigger incidents with other children involving that predator. The police will lead you in the right direction regarding who to speak with and the appropriate follow-up.
Kristi Bush serves as a national education consultant and social media safety advocate. She is a licensed social worker with greater than 15 years of clinical practice and health care experience. She attended Troy and Auburn University where she studied social work and counseling. Kristi travels nationally and has spoken with thousands of children, parents, professionals and organizations about the benefits and threats associated with social media. You may reach Kristi through her website at www.knbcommunications.com.