Minimize the Risks of Online Predators

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If your child is online and does more than read the occasional information website, she or he is at risk for encountering online predators. Online predators are often portrayed as middle-aged men seeking sexual encounters with children or teens and this is often the case, but online predators can be women as well or even other children. To protect your child from these individuals you can remove all internet access from your child’s home, school, and the homes of her friends, or you can face the situation proactively.

Knowledge is Power

You know predators exist in every size, shape and color. You know they are out there on every social website no matter how hard it is protected by the company or webmaster. You know this and are working to protect your child, but is she involved in the fight? Your first step to protecting your child is arming her with the information she needs to protect herself. Protection should be a ongoing, joint effort.

No Names, Please

Your first step is to avoid using her real name on anything. Her name should not appear on any profiles, any email accounts, any usernames or any chats. You might brainstorm a clever screen name that she can use for all accounts and logins online, but she should never use her name or initials – front, middle or last, in any accounts – visible or not. Keeping profiles private just means a predator has to befriend your child or one of her friends first to gain access to the groups before seeing the information he needs.

Skip the Details

Your child should always be aware to never put any personal details online. These include her address, her school name, her grade level, her gym, her sports team and her logo. Ending a post with something as simple as “Go, Tigers!” can tell someone exactly where to find her if she’s let her city slip out. Even large cities with multiple Tigers can pose little deterrent to a dedicated stalker who’s able to piece together multiple clues.

No Pictures

Your child should learn to not post pictures or videos without your permission. Posting media is a big part of being online today, but sharing a funny dance video she made with her sister is different from a video that might be suggestive to predators. Also, be sure to scan the background of all pictures and videos should you giver her permission to post. You’re looking for clues about where you can find her such as letter jacket’s laying on chairs, prominent landmarks, and school names in the background.

Stay Connected

Let your child know that you care deeply about her safety and want her to be able to enjoy being online while staying safe. Establish a solid working relationship about the internet where she knows her friends and conversations will be private, but never completely so. Routinely ask to see her friend’s list and have her list each friend for you. If you don’t recognize a name, ask about that individual. Remove friends who are not real people in your child’s life and be highly suspicious of the ones you haven’t heard of or met previously.

Staying in tune with your child is essential to learning who her friends are at school and then translating those friends into usernames online. Encourage your child to always come to you with any concerns she has about herself online or any of her friends. And with all things, don’t assume one round of instructions and rules has lasting power. Repeat your discussion from time to time to cement the rules in her head and make them a lasting part of her online experiences.

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