My child would never do that.
That what so many parents I know say about their children. Their perfect children.
Because they raised their children right. With values. With morals. With ethics.
But do you really know what is going on behind closed doors?
When you go to sleep?
When your 13 year old daughter is playing on their iPad?
When your 15-year old son is snap-chatting with his friends from the bottom bunk after you’ve called lights out?
They’re good kids. You live in suburbia. Nothing remotely interesting ever happens in your neck of the woods. Your children know right from wrong. You have nothing to worry about.
I just read a newspaper article about a 14 year old girl who was having sexual relations with a 20 year old in the high school parking lot. Apparently this young girl met him online and they arranged to meet through several conversations. The perpetrator said she lied about her age. He got rough with her- really rough.
I bet the victims parents had told themselves at one point that something like that would never happen to their daughter too.
Several years ago, I had a neighbor who was 15 years old. Family was a sweet as pie. Went to church every Sunday. She went to parochial school, ran track, babysat for all the neighbors. She became interested in a boy in her grade (pretty normal for a 15 year old girl) and all of a sudden, one of our neighbors- a 32 year old guy that she babysat for- didn’t like it. He made a fake Facebook profile and used it to find out where she would be hanging out with her friends at night. And come to find out- my creepy 32 year old neighbor was criminally stalking my sweet 15 year old neighbor and then he sexually assaulted her. It was a really, really, tragic and horrible situation.
There are so many terrifying things that can happen to children and teens- or even just people online. Take sextortion- a form of remotely sexually assaulting a victim. Threatening someone to do something sexual, like create a pornographic video or take a pornographic picture in exchange to have the “sextortor” leave you alone. 71% of the victims are under 18. 14% of the victims involve a mix of minor and adult victims. 12 % of the cases involve only adults.
To date, every single prosecuted perpretrator has been male. They include college students, a State Department employee, and fathers of their victims. Sextortionists tend to be repeat offenders. 25 cases involved at least 10 cases. 13 cases involved at least 20 victims, and 13 cases involved more than 100 victims.
Social media is used in 91% of cases involving minors. That’s how it happened at one of the high school’s I used to teach at. Where a high school male senior went online, passed himself off as a flirty female student, and conned over 30 boys to email him sexually explicit pictures of himself. Ultimately, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison and 13 years of extended supervision, after pleading no contest to two charges of third-degree sexual assaulted and repeated assault of the same child.
I can tell you one thing- I may be a little over-protective of my children and what they do online and on their devices. Because I have seen first-hand the scary people that are out there. I also see a lot of parents that bury their heads in the sand.
Some parents say that they don’t want to invade their children’s privacy. I respect this way of thinking. But I also don’t want my child to end up being a victim of sex trafficking or a pedophile. So one of these arguments has to win. I’ll take invading my child’s privacy and protecting them any day!
My children (10 and 13) have been in the digital program at school since they were in 3rd grade; which means they have had I-pads since they were both 8. They get frequent lectures about things like what is okay to post online and what kind of apps they are allowed to have at what ages. We started with Instagram and you can bet I was really mad when I saw a picture of the house with a description of where we lived in the comments- but it was also a great conversation starter for how a stranger could use that to find us. The picture came down and they don’t post things that give away their location anymore.
The second year after my son had an Ipad, I found out that he and the neighbor were making videos of themselves going on a site called Omegle. I had never heard of this website and in my opinion- it’s a parent’s nightmare. It was a free video chat website that they could use and it was just full of people having inappropriate conversations and asking for sex. I’m not even sure if it’s still around. But he lost his ipad privileges for a while after that and we had a good conversation about sharing information and whether there is anything to benefit from talking to complete strangers at all…
When my son was old enough to get a cell phone, I decided to make up a cell phone contract. Yes, I’m one of those moms. My husband thought I was crazy. If you’re curious what one looks like they have examples on Pinterest. But, I think that children ultimately respect rules they can see. For me- it’s easier to say “I’m taking this phone away because you didn’t bring home a 3.0 and you knew that was expected of you.” (and you signed the contract) than have a child stomping his/her feet because they only knew they had to get “good grades” to keep their phone. The contract spells out that they cannot change their password to their phone without telling it to me. It specifies that the phone gets charged in the hall every night when they go to bed. The contract specifies that the only app used for text messaging will be the app that comes with the phone (no KIK or anything else). There are all sorts of suggestions for cell phone contracts that you can look up that are meant to help parents protect their children.
Cell phone contracts may seem intrusive and over protective at first. But being strong at the start is much easier than having to be strong when you are holding your child after they have been sexually assaulted.
When we added Facebook to the mix, we created a new contract- a social media contract. This contract included things like “you must accept friend requests from your siblings” and “keeping family business off the Internet” as well as “not meeting up with people you meet online without parents’ permission” and “not checking in” your location unless you are with a parent or other adult.
Look… I’m definitely not a perfect parent. In fact- far from it. But I try really hard. And this is an area that I try REALLY hard in. Because I have SEEN it. And it is SCARY.
And when I saw that news article about the girl in the high school parking lot…. It just reminded me… that these things… they happen to the kids whose parents think it will never happen to their kids.
What do I look for?
- Your child spends large amounts of time online, especially at night
- Your child receives phone calls from an adult you do not know
- Your child receives gifts, letters, money, or packages through the mail from someone you do not know
- Your child gets items delivered to them at school from someone you do not know
- Your child is using an online account that belongs to someone else
- Your child turns the computer monitor off or quickly changes the screen when you come in the room
- You find pornography on your child’s computer
Safety Tips for Parents
- Know what your child is doing online and where they are doing it
- Talk to your children about potential online dangers
- Use filtering/monitoring software on your computer and devices
- Teach your children to never give out personal information online
- Tell your child to never meet with anyone they meet online unless you are present
- Keep the computers out of the bedrooms
- Keep devices out of the bedrooms after a set curfew
- Report online incidents to your local sheriff’s office or police department
- Know what apps your child is downloading onto their phone (you can look them up for reviews-I like www.Commonsensemedia.org)
- Consider having a cell phone/social media contract with your child
- Keep up on texting lingo and abbreviations. Monitor your child’s text messages. Check out this scary article on texting lingo