Between mobile phones, tablets, and computers, children have the Internet in the palms of their hands. While the online world gives kids access to knowledge, culture, and educational tools, access may also expose children and teens to online predators, pornographic images, and unwanted solicitations.
This issue of the Parenting Safe Children enews is all about keeping your children safe online.
Just the Facts, Folks is about the dynamics of online sexual abuse, including what makes kids vulnerable.
Your Online Safety Plan offers tips for educating children, and includes a free Famliy Online Safety Agreement from Parenting Safe Children.
Porn and Sexting looks at the legal consequences of youth sending or receiving naked pictures.
To Monitor, or Not comments on the tough choices parentsmake about whether or not to install monitoring software or even look at a child’s text history.
Whether you have a toddler or a teen, there is something in this issue for you. And last but not least be sure to check out my schedule of upcoming workshops and holiday gift idea.
According to the National Center for Exploited and Missing Children, one in five children (ages 10-17) has been sexually solicited online and nearly 60% of teens have received an email or Instant Message from a stranger—and half have responded back.
For abuse to take place, online predators need access to and privacy with vulnerable children and teens.
95% of youth (ages 12-17) use social networking sites, chat rooms, or blogs, giving online predators tremendous access to minors(1). Even children under five are going online at least once a week (2).
With privacy and anonymity, predators engage youth across multiple media, from chat rooms to gaming sites to text. In fact, according to one survey, 89% of sexual solicitations targeting youth were made in chat rooms or through Instant Message(3).
Gaming also allows for private interactions. 97% of teens (ages 12-17) play online games and 27% of them game with people they first meet on online(4).
While researchers are still learning about the nuances of online grooming behavior, solicitation may include direct requests for chat, information, sexual activity, in-person meeting, or exposure to sexual materials.
Based on research by the leading experts in child sexual abuse prevention, predators seek youth with a history of sexual or physical abuse; who post sexually provocative photos or videos; who talk about sex online with people they do not know; and/or who feel alienated or alone. Boys who are gay or who question their sexual orientation are also vulnerable if they seek out information and connection online(5).
Predators specifically look for kids who engage in four risky online behaviors(6), all of which are more common than we’d like to think:
Communicating with unknown people
Sharing personal information with unknown people (More than half of all teens have given out personal info online to someone they don’t know, including photos and physical descriptions(7))
Talking about sex online
Meeting online friends in the outside world
Even youth who are not engaging in risky behaviors can be vulnerable in the “Wild West” of the online world. For instance, 70% of kids (ages 8-18) have encountered pornography online accidently, sometimes by entering a seemingly benign search term as part of a homework assignment(8).
Do not hesitate to revoke privileges if the “Safe Use” agreement is broken.
The more you talk with your children about body safety, online safety, sex and sexuality, the more likely your children will seek you out if they have questions or find themselves in an uncomfortable situation. Continually remind children and teens that you have a “no-secrets” home, and that there is nothing they can say or do to make you not love them.
Porn and Sexting
A study published in Child Abuse Review, reported that 38% of children who were regular Internet users had received pornographic pop-ups, 36% had visited a pornographic site by accident, and 25% had received pornographic material in an email (9). Some of this exposure is entirely accidental; for instance, your child heads to books.com, but types in "boobs."
The simplest way to prevent younger children from seeing online porn, is to install one of the online monitoring software programs, though it’s still important to reinforce body-safety rules. Online monitoring programs are available for laptops, tablets, and mobile devices.
Youth sexting involves the creation, distribution, or possession of sexual images created by minors. Consider the teen who takes a nude self-photo and sends it to a girl- or boyfriend. However innocent, this is defined as child pornography and is illegal. Please talk with your kids about the legal implications of sexting or emailing sexual, nude, or even semi-nude photos.
If you have questions or concerns about your child’s safety, I am available for phone consultations.
To Monitor, or Not?
In the Parenting Safe Children workshop, I talk about the importance of teaching your children body-safety rules and the equal importance of screening caregivers. Here are some examples of applying screening principles around online safety:
Screen the sites your children spend time on – and set limits.
Screen friend lists periodically, just as you would inquire about who your child is spending time with in the outside world.
Review personal information to make sure that your child’s profile and photos on social networking sites are appropriate. (Some parents require that their child friend a parent as a condition of social media use, so the parent can watch for safe use.)
Then it gets a little trickier, with a host of personal privacy decisions. Do you check your child’s text messages when concerned? Do you install parental control software to filter sites or obtain usage reports? These decisions are personal and will vary by family, but please remember two things:
Whatever choice you make about filtering programs, no software can take the place of an actively involved parent; and
If you are concerned or worried that your child ‘s safety is being comprised, then it is no longer a matter of privacy, but rather one of safety. If your child won’t talk with you, do what you need to do to protect your child, even if it means, for instance, checking his or her text messages.
Please check out my schedule and share it with your friends. The more people who teach their children body-safety rules and who screen caregivers, the safer our communities will be. Perhaps you'd even like to be a hero and host a workshop!
The Parenting Safe Children community on Facebook is 2,800 strong and we’re having some great conversations. Every Thursday, for instance, we do a Teachable Moment – e.g., How would you respond if your child says, “My friend wants me to sleep at his/her house, but I don’t want to?” Check out this and other discussions on Facebook now!
(1) Lenhart A. www.pewinternet.org, Nov 2013.
(2) Lenhart A. Social media and young adults. Pew Internet and American Life Project, 2010. (3) http://www.guardchild.com/statistics
(4) Lenhart, A. Teens, video garmes, and civics. Pew Internet & American life Project, 2008.
(5) Wolak J, Finkelhor D, Mitchell K, Ybarra M. Online “predators” and their victims: myths, realities, and implications for prevention and treatment. American Psychologist, 2008; 63, 111-128.
(6) Mitchell, K.J., Finkelhor, D., & Wolak, J. Youth internet users at risk for the most serious online sexual solicitations. American Journal of Preventative Medicine, 2007; 32, 532-536.
(7) Social Media and Young Adults. Pew Internet & American Life Project, Feb. 2010.
(8) Generation M: media in the lives of 8-18 year olds. Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. 2006.
(9) S.C. Dombrowski, K.L. Gischlar, and T. Durst, Safeguarding young people form cyber pornography and cyber sexual predation: A major dilemma of the Internet. Child Abuse Review 16, 2007; 153-70.
My Unnwavering Mission
Parenting Safe Children empowers parents and professionals to raise kids and build communities that are off limits to child sexual abusers.