Online Safety: Online Predators, Should You Worry?

Is this teen chatting with an online predator?

Do You Know Who Your Teen is Chatting With?

Your teen comes home from school and goes up to her bedroom, closes the door and goes online.  You worry who he or she may be talking to online.  You’re not alone.  One of the biggest fears that parents have when kids go online is online predators, especially since so many kids have computers and mobile devices in their bedrooms with webcams.

The good news is that your child actually becoming the victim of an online predator is unlikely.  The bad news is that according to FBI, “online predators are everywhere online”, and are working hard to engage children online.  Predators aren’t scary looking and don’t stand out. They look like you or me or anyone down the street.   They are “mostly male, although we are seeing an alarming trend of female predators.  Male predators are often married with children.  A professional, upstanding member in the community but leading a deviant lifestyle through the Internet.”

Parents need to pay attention to their children’s online activity and take preventative measures to protect their children from online predators.  No one wants their child to be that victim that we read about in the news all too frequently.

Online Safety Stats Parents Should Know:

  •  More than 750,000 predators are online everyday
  • Kids 12 to 15 are susceptible to being groomed and manipulated by offenders online

    Monitor your child's computer activity to see who they're chatting with.

    Is your child chatting with a stranger online?

  • FBI stats show that more than 50% of victims of online sexual exploitation are 12-15 years old, and the majority are girls
  • 89 % of all sexual advances towards our children take place in internet chat rooms and through instant messaging
  • In 47% of the cases, the predator offered gifts or money during the relationship-building phase.
  • Nearly a third of American teenage girls say that at some point they’ve met up with people with whom their only prior contact was online.  A recent survey (2014) of 9000 children  in the UK  found that a fifth of girls aged 14 and 15 had been asked for meetings by strangers they had met online. And shockingly, “one in ten had gone to meet them.”

How do predators connect with children online?

Chatrooms are a predators dream come true and are the predominant online location where predators meet kids. Sites like Omegle that invite kids to talk to strangers are a parents nightmare. Teaching your child not to talk to strangers is one of the first lessons in life that a parent gives their child. There are hundreds of these sites.  Kids are naturally curious and many kids visit them thinking it’s no big deal.  Kids should not be on these sites period. They are disturbing and ripe with nudity and explicit disgusting sexual behavior in addition to being havens for predators.  Many gaming sites also have chatroom capabilities leaving a child vulnerable to potential exploitation. Many of these sites have webcam functionality. “There are ways to turn the webcam on without you knowing you’re being watched,” said an FBI Special Agent.

Predators can also find kids on Facebook and other social networking sites. They often create a fake identity online and may pose as a teenager, the child never the wiser. Online predators educate themselves about music, movies, slang that kids use, to help them  connect with a tween/teen.  Many kids become friends with complete strangers online with many kids  accepting “friend” requests regardless of whether they know who they are friending.  What’s even more alarming is that 30% of kids are meeting up with the “friends” they met online.

Apps are also being used by online predators to engage with victims.  Several recent cases of teens being victimized have involved the smartphone app Kik Messenger.  One mom of a 10 year old said this, “I didn’t think my daughter would be in danger, ’cause she’s a good girl.”  This girl was chatting with about twenty men according to and one of them convinced the girl to send nude images.   This man then threatened her.  Kids and parents need to know that the terms of service for using Kik is 17+, but the majority of users are between eleven and fifteen years old.  This girl was only 10 years old.  Parents need to see what apps their kids are downloading on their devices, and make sure they are age suitable.  Parents need to talk to them frequently about online predator risks.

You Tube and other video sites where kids post videos about themselves is another vehicle for predators to find children. The more information kids post about themselves on line the easier it is for a predator to find them. Pictures of kids in school sports uniforms, talking about their school or activity, posting where they are on their status updates, or using Foursquare a geo-location site.  There are many opportunities for predators to compile the puzzle pieces to find out more about a child, their tastes in music, TV, and ultimately where they’re located.  Many kids are indiscriminate about the information they are posting online, on their social networking profiles for the world to see. According to a Pew study in 2012, teen are sharing more personal information than ever before, such as real name, phone number, school name, city or town where they live, email address, birth date and interests.  Many 13-17 year olds, (69%) have updated their status on social networking sites to include their physical location, 28% chatted with strangers (people whom they did not know in the offline world).

After the Predator Has Made a Connection: Grooming

Adolescents is a time of turmoil for many kids resulting in difficult relationships with parents as they are seeking to be independent adults. This is neither the fault of  parents nor kids.  Some kids may feel lonely, unsupported, that their parents are too strict and that no one understands them. They may turn to the internet and chat rooms to find someone they can talk to and feel a connection with.  Unfortunately, this can be a recipe for disaster as predators wait for these vulnerable kids.  Predators are master manipulators and provide the online “pretend” support these kids are looking for to build trust and to verify the child’s feelings. They work at becoming that child’s friend and gaining trust which is  known as the grooming process. “It could continue for days or weeks before the pedophile begins bringing up sexual topics, asking for explicit pictures or for a personal meeting. By that time an emotional connection has been made.”

After a nude picture is sent by the child, sometimes sextortion occurs, extortion using sexual images.  This recently happened to a Massachusetts 13 year old who thought she was communicating with a teenager.  She sent him a naked photo. This man is 35 and from England. He then threatened her if she didn’t send more naked pictures. Fortunately this man is behind bars.

A sixteen year old girl recently allowed a ‘friend’ she met on Facebook to pick her up.  She thought they were going to a party.  She was allegedly taken to an undisclosed location where she was sexually assaulted.  This man has been arrested.

These stories are alarming and they are real.  In both situations, these predators found their victim on Social Networking sites.  It’s important for parents to know who their kids are engaging with on their computer devices.

Internet Safety: What Can Parents Do?

  1. Self  education –  learn what kids are exposed to online. Learn what the risks are.
  2. Communitcating, educating, e-mentoring  your kids about:
    • Online risks
    • Chatrooms, video site, interactive game risks, dating sites and app risks
    • Predators and to be aware of manipulative behavior, gifts, requests for nude pictures, grooming
    • Predators don’t look scary, they look like you or I, or the person down the street
    • Teaching your child that if they get in a situation that feels uncomfortable, that they should and can always come to you and that they won’t get in trouble if they do.
    • Only friend people they know on Social Networking Sites
    • Never meet someone they’ve only met online
    • Be alert if a ‘friend’  online offers to send a gift
    • Turn off webcam when not in use
    • Teach your child to abide by the terms of service of a social networking site, dating site, or app – There’s a good reason they have age restrictions in place!

3.  Check in on your child’s computer device activity and be aware of the apps they’re using.  It’s especially important to know who they’re engaging with online and who their friends are on social networking sites.

4.   Set limits and ground rules about what your child is allowed to do online, the sites they’re allowed to visit and apps they’re allowed to download.  Learn about the terms of service and age suitability of the websites they’re visiting and the apps they’re using.  Talk to them about the risks associated with posting personal information.  Go over the ScreenRetriever tips before they are allowed on the computer.

5.   Learn the language your kids use on the computer and cellphone, like A/S/L or GNOC.

6.   When your child comes to you with a problem, be there for them, and don’t over react.  Many kids don’t tell their parents when they have a problem online because they are afraid they will lose computer privileges.

7.   Start  monitoring and teaching safe computer habits  early, when kids go on the computer so that your family values and rules are ingrained early.

One child caught in the manipulative trap of a predator is one too many. This can be prevented when parents “parent online” and teach their children about online risks and consequences.