Children go missing every day, with the FBI reporting in the USA around 460,000 children go missing yearly. The internet has made it possible for criminals from countries all over the world to gain access to kids, and abuse is rampant on social media and in online games.
Yet keeping children safe from predators online has been a major concern for parents since the internet has appeared in homes. Alicia Kozakiewicz was the first victim of an internet-based child abduction. She was kidnapped by a 38-year-old man who pretended to be a 13-year-old boy, and she was lured from her home near Pittsburgh. This event happened in 2002 but many of the lessons are still useful today because protecting our children from online predators is vital. Enforcement of rules, limiting engagement, and being aware of the dangers can tremendously benefit the children and make the online world a safer place.
One of the methods by which a parent can protect their child is to limit screen time. By limiting screen time, parents can reduce the footprint that an attacker or abuser can use to take advantage of the child. Children who are unsupervised when using devices are easier prey when compared to those who have some level of supervision and structure to their device usage.
Another of the biggest internet safety problems facing children is the number of applications they have access to. Social media is one of the main ways predators can get access to victims without parents ever being aware. Fortunately, every device and the applications that functions on it likely comes with parental controls which can help limit the potential threat of a child encountering a predator.
And there are more ways to get help.
Schools and other venues offer help that can be utilized, often hosting seminars or rallies
where guest speakers come and do talks on topics such as drug abuse or cyber bullying.
Last year, the U.S. Attorney’s Office offered recommendations for parents to become extra vigilant as COVID-19 drove children online even more:
1. Discuss Internet safety with children of all ages that are online. Many children do not realize that people may not be who they claim to be online. Similarly, many do not understand that someone who seems like a friend online could have a deviant motive.
2. Set limits around who your children are allowed to communicate with. You may consider limiting young children to communicating only with people you have personally met. For older children, you may consider limiting them to communicating only with people they have met in person.
3. Set limits around the kinds of devices and applications your children use. Online child sexual predators often use new technologies to avoid detection by law enforcement. If your child is using an application you have not heard of before, consider researching the application online or testing it out using your child’s account.
4. Use technology to protect them. Many devices and programs allow parents to set parameters around which applications children may use and for how long. Similarly, many of these programs allow parents to see what their children are doing while using those applications.
5. Pay attention to warning signs. Children who are sexually exploited are often embarrassed and hesitate to tell parents or other authority figures about their experiences. Pay attention if your child is withdrawing or changing their mood while their Internet activity increases.
6. Report suspected abuse. Reporting can help minimize or stop further victimization. If you believe your child has been sexually exploited online, contact the United States Attorney’s Office, your local F.B.I. office, or report online at www.cybertipline.org.
Find additional tips at https://www.end-violence.org/safeonlinecovid.
Children rarely listen to their parents, that is no secret, but if we had multiple voices and ways to spread awareness in a holistic and family first format, we could combat these issues with greater effectiveness. The fight for children to have the right to just be kids again doesn’t seem so steep a climb when we work together.