Protecting our Beloved Children

Do you have school-age kids in your life? Perhaps you have grandchildren. Or maybe you have friends who have kids or grandkids you care about.

They’re back in school, and connecting with their friends. Maybe they are making new friends. In any case, they are communicating, and they are doing it online…. and with their phones.

When we were growing up, we connected face-to-face, or sometimes by phone. When the phone rang, we knew the person we were talking with. Of course, a stranger might call, or someone might even call under false pretenses. But we didn’t immediately become friends when a stranger called. We usually made friends in person. And it was a gradual process.

A lot of the people we communicate with online are people we haven’t met. Even so, we tend to take what they say at face value, unless there is some reason to think that we shouldn’t. With face-to-face communication, there is a lot of non-verbal communication that goes on that gives us clues when people aren’t being honest with us. We may not be fully aware of that, but the signs are there. Online, we don’t have the same signs.

Kids are comfortable with the technology. When we are comfortable with something, we take it for granted. There is also the tendency to trust it. But that can be dangerous when there are people with bad intentions using it to try to gain our trust.

When I was growing up, I was told about the danger of strangers. There are some bad people are out there and they might try to take me, to get me into their car and kidnap me. That made an impression on me.

When I was in school, if a middle-aged man had come up to me and said they were my age and went to my school, I would run the other way. His appearance would give him away. I would know he was up to no good.

Today, that kind of communication might happen online. If someone says they are your age and go to your school, you are inclined to believe them. You can’t see who they really are. They could send you a picture but, even then, there is no way to know that the picture they are sending is really of them.

Here are some frightening statistics:

* Approximately 1 in 7 (13%) youth Internet users received unwanted sexual solicitations….

* Predators seek youths vulnerable to seduction, including those with histories of sexual or physical abuse, those who post sexually provocative photos/videos online, and those who talk about sex with unknown people online….

* 1 in 25 youths received an online sexual solicitation in which the solicitor tried to make offline contact.

* In more than one-quarter (27%) of incidents, solicitors asked youths for sexual photographs of themselves.

* The most common first encounter of a predator with an Internet-initiated sex crimes victim took place in an online chat room (76%).

* In nearly half (47%) of the cases involving an Internet-initiated sex crimes victim, the predator offered gifts or money during the relationship-building phase.

* Internet-based predators used less deception to befriend their online victims than experts had thought. Only 5% of the predators told their victims that they were in the same age group as the victims. Most offenders told the victims that they were older males seeking sexual relations….

* Of respondents to a survey of juvenile victims of Internet-initiated sex crimes, the majority met the predator willingly face-to-face and 93% of those encounters had included sexual contact.

More info and original sources of statistics quoted are available at:
https://www.nsopw.gov/en-US/Education/FactsStatistics.

 

Most kids know not to talk to strangers. Do we instill the same caution about being friendly with strangers online? Even if we do, does it make the same impression as not talking to strangers in real life?

As the statistics above state, many of the predators are not disguising their age or intent. They befriend their victims, offer gifts, make requests, and lure them to meet them in real life. And the victims willingly meet the predators.

The message about being cautious with strangers doesn’t seem to have the same impact when talking about strangers online.

There are multiple interactions between first contact with a predator and the later development of more dangerous interaction. During this time, most kids don’t tell their parents.

But, what if a trusted adult were having conversations with them on an ongoing basis about the risks and about what they were experiencing online? What if these conversations began at an early age and continued over the years? Perhaps there would be a chance to intervene. Better yet, our beloved children would be more likely to make wiser decisions when confronted by disturbing situations because of those conversations over the years.

Talk to the children in your life. There may be children you care about but you don’t feel you are the proper party to have that discussion. Talk to their parents and encourage them to talk to their kids.

If we are communicating with the children we care about, they are less likely to depend upon someone else, someone they shouldn’t be trusting. But, even if they are at an age where they aren’t likely to talk to you or their parents, if you have had such conversations along the way, they are more likely to think twice before engaging in risky behaviors.
Check back in October (National Cyber Security Awareness Month). I will be providing some tips and resources to help you in keeping our beloved children safe.