How to Protect Your Child from an Online Predator

After a mother got a phone call from another student’s mother saying her child was sending inappropriate text messages, she was horrified at what she uncovered. The mother, who wishes to remain anonymous, examined her child’s phone and tablet and discovered photos that indicated her child had been sharing photos and videos online with a child predator.

The mother said she thought she was doing everything right by using software that allowed her to read her child’s email and text messages, but the predator was stalking her child using an app the mother couldn’t access.

“Parents who say, ‘My child has never sent an inappropriate picture through the phone or the internet,’ are in complete denial,” the mother says.

The child's mother and father share their story with The Doctors to help educate other parents about how to prevent their children from becoming victims.

Detective Carlos Monterroso, of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, says parents should know their children’s accounts, their email addresses and their passwords.

“You need to know who their friends are, both online as you would offline,” he says.

OB-GYN Dr. Jennifer Ashton recommends reinforcing an old piece of advice:

“We’ve taught our children since they could walk, ‘You never get into a car or speak to a stranger.’ They understand that,” Dr. Ashton says. “The second they get a phone in their hand, they need to know the same exact rules apply. You never communicate with someone that you don’t know personally.”

Common Methods of Predators

  • Any adult seeking a sexual encounter with a minor is considered a predator.
  • Online predators do not fit any one mold or stereotype.
  • Contrary to popular belief, most online predators are not pedophiles.
  • Pedophiles target pre-pubescent children, while online predators typically target adolescents who engage in risky online behavior.
  • Predators take advantage of children‘s natural vulnerabilities, such as their desire to appear adult or their need for attention.
  • Grooming is the process through which predators play on these vulnerabilities by offering children gifts and attention.
  • Grooming might lead to the child‘s willingness to meet the person with whom he or she is chatting.
  • Offenders will often entice a child into a face-to-face meeting by:
    • Exploiting a child‘s natural curiosity about sex
    • Lowering the child‘s inhibitions by gradually introducing explicit images and child sex abuse images
    • Using his or her adult status to influence and control a child‘s behavior
    • Offering attention and affection
    • Betraying a child‘s trust by manipulating his or her emotions and insecurities

Warning Signs

  • Spends an excessive amount of time on the computer
  • Becomes angry when he or she cannot get on the computer
  • Withdraws from family and friends
  • Minimizes the screen or turns off the monitor when you come into the room
  • Inappropriate images or websites on the computer
  • Strange phone numbers on your telephone bill
  • Gifts in the mail from someone you don‘t know, such as webcams or cell phones

Prevention

  • Take an interest in your child‘s online activities and know with whom he or she is communicating.
  • Help teach your children to identify predators‘ methods for online enticement.
  • Approve all photos and videos before your child posts them online.
  • Teach your child to refrain from talking about sex with anyone they meet online.
  • Your child should never meet face-to-face with anyone they first met online without your permission and/or attendance.
  • If a child comes to you with a disclosure of exploitation, reassure him or her that talking to an adult is the right action to take and divert any blame away from the victim.

Sources: Internet Safety 101, NetSmartz, The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Journal of Adolescent Health

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