Kids are learning to use technology at younger and younger ages and are sometimes more tech savvy than their parents. Often this is a great tool for education, especially in a homeschool setting where there may not be as many hands-on resources but it can also be a dangerous avenue for predators to seek out victims.
Predators use a variety of methods to find and lure kids and teenagers into providing details of their lives, schedules, and locations. Children are generally unaware of the dangers of telling an online “friend” about their soccer practice or school name but predators can use that information to narrow down your child’s location to either simply watch them or something more nefarious. Parents need to spend time talking to their children about information that should never be revealed online, without exception. For instance, children should not use their full name as a screen name on any online game or website, even those aimed at children and seemingly innocent such as the Webkins website. Obviously kids shouldn’t send their address but predators can use information such as school or practice locations to gain access to a child as well so parents have to be monitoring and communicating to make sure all potential location information is protected. This is easier said than done, however.
Social media provides predators easy access to that location information even though parents are often unaware that they are providing it. While children can be taught to use social media carefully without revealing locations or posting information about vacations, schedules, etc, parent must take extra care that they are not unintentionally revealing information that can lead a predator to their child.
For instance, allowing Facebook to determine location information on photos tells a potential predator exactly where you and your child are as well as the interests of your child. That information is invaluable to an adult who wants to make a connection with a child and gain their trust. If parents feel strongly about posting photos of their children on Facebook, they need to be sure to check their Privacy settings to ensure that only “Friends” can view their profile AND photographs. If both settings are not set correctly, predators may not be able to view your profile but they will have access to photographs and can gather location information from Facebook or from the photographs themselves. Instagram has similar privacy settings so parents need to be sure to check out their options on all of their social media accounts before posting any photographs or location information.
A child or teenager’s social media access should be monitored closely to ensure that children are not unintentionally providing information a predator can use to lure the child into agreeing to meet a “friend” that they have not met in person before. Kids should not accept requests or messages from anyone they have not met or do not already know and should alert parents if they continue to receive unsolicited messages from a person they do not know. Children and teenagers don’t often realize that predators exist and therefore don’t see the risk incurred by posting sexualized photos, location information, or personal and relationship issues that a predator can use to target the child.
Frequent communication about internet safety, a nightly check of all social media accounts, and regularly visiting Privacy settings on all computers, tablets, phones, and all online accounts will go a long way towards keeping a child safe. Internet use is almost unavoidable but the right precautions can help keep your children safe from online predators.