“This year, my daughter asked for a laptop for Christmas. I did research on filters and considered how to best safeguard my family from the scary stories I have heard about children and the internet.
On my rational days, I know my daughter is responsible and that she will learn to use technology safely with our help. On my more dramatic days, I think she will immediately open her first laptop to see nasty computer porn, and that Chris Hansen from ‘To Catch a Predator’ will surely be in my living room next week.
After hours of research, it seemed like there was no real way to both protect my child and to allow her to have a computer. I know technology will be a big part of her life, and I want to help her build a healthy relationship with that technology. I also know the threats of predators and disturbing content is real.
I was at a loss. So, I reached out to a friend who is an expert in this area.
Bobbi Lynne Starr, is the Executive Director of Micah’s Promise, an organization that fights child sex trafficking and provides resources and healing to minors who have been rescued from this devastating reality. She has been studying the issue for 10 years and has made the mission on Micah’s Promise her life’s work. She is a warrior for justice and a wealth of knowledge on how technology and interactive toys can make our children vulnerable to predators. The stories I have heard about the battles they fight within the child sex industry and the relationship technology plays in it all, terrifies me as a mother.
Children from our own communities are being plucked away from innocence and safety, and this is more likely to happen from a false relationship online than being randomly kidnapped from a store or home.
Any advice she can offer to guard our family, I will implement without pause.
Here is some of what Ms. Starr and her Executive Administrator, Raven Henderson shared.
We all want to protect our children and provide them the wonderful opportunities that technology seems to offer. Our kids see the cool gadgets and games their friends have, and they want in. We want to give them all of these things, while also keeping them safe. The conundrum of being a fun mom or an overbearing mom can feel like a tough balance.
You need to know that any interactive toy can put your children at risk. There are toys and gifts we give children that allow them to connect to the internet, that you may not consider a threat:
- smart phones
- laptops and iPads
- gaming systems
- smart TV’s
- ANYTHING that allows Wi-Fi – even some stuffed animals
If your child has access to any of the above items, they are at risk. A toy or device that connects with the internet can allow predators access to your child.
Predators go where the prey is, and unfortunately, they see our children as that prey. A paycheck. An opportunity. A predator can easily camouflage themselves in the sea of young people online by pretending to be one of them.
This is much more of an issue than most may realize.
- Human trafficking is the second largest criminal enterprise and quickly surpassing the drug trade.
- The multi-billion-dollar industry is the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world.
- In the U.S. there are an estimated 300,000 American children vulnerable to trafficking or currently being sexually exploited.
- The average age of victims of Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking is 11-14.
- 3,600 children are sold for sex each year in Georgia alone. (statistic provided by streetgrace.org)
Even your seemingly tech-savvy kid can be fooled by an evil person behind a screen that knows and has studied how to mimic a child. These predators have learned to mirror your child’s interests in an effort to become their new best friend.
Also, parent’s need to consider the content their children will be consuming, and how this will affect them. I am sure you are aware of the prevalence and accessibility of pornography.
The current research shows that the average age in which a child is first exposed to porn is nine.
It is important to have conversations with your children about what to do if, or rather when, they see pornographic images. Keep the lines of communication open, and let them know they can always come to you. Pornography can be extremely addicting, and these images are hard to get out of a child’s mind.
This is all enough to scare a mom to move their family into the basement and shield them from this scary world forever, but obviously this isn’t the answer.
Know the risks and dangers, but don’t live in fear. With the right tools, techniques, and communication, we can keep our children safe.
Here are 7 tips I believe will help keep your children safe on the internet:
- Set-up technology rules and procedures early.
Set the expectation before they get a new computer or game. Make the rules clear. In an age-appropriate way, share with your child the dangers that come with the internet.
- Keep the computer in a communal location.
As a mom, you know when things are quiet — someone might be up to something. Eliminate this by keeping the computer/tablet in plain sight. We know kids are more likely to follow the rules when everyone can see them.
- Keep volume audible when your child has an interactive game.
Popular games like Fortnite allow children to speak with other players. A predator may retreat when they can tell your child has a parent nearby. Some predators will notice when a parent is near and lure a child to another website or platform. With audible gaming you can help your child resist the pressure and temptation to follow bad guys to other parts of the internet. Make your mama bear presence clear, and predators will back off.
- Ask questions.
When your child leaves the house, they ask your permission to go somewhere and then you ask lots of questions about who will be there and what they will be doing. You then make a decision, and give stipulations of how long they can stay.
The same applies to going online. Ask them what they will be doing. Make stipulations on their screen time. Don’t give your children the illusion of privacy on the internet. Know exactly what is going on.
- Make sure your child’s accounts are private.
Children should only accept friend requests from people they know in real life. Predators can gain access to your child’s friend lists by becoming friends of friends. Counteract this measure by not allowing them to build new friendships with people they meet online.
- Be honest with your child about the risks of letting strangers in.
Remind your children that predators are out there. It is ok for your children to have a healthy fear that will hopefully lead to safe behavior. Tell them that predators are looking for them to let their guard down. When they express being lonely, angry, or feeling down a predator can see that as a time to press in. A popular technique used by predators, is to take advantage of a moment a child is mad at their parents and build a wedge between them. Predators are patient, and may be hiding in your child’s large list of online friends for years.
- Only allow apps that are age appropriate.
I would argue that any app that allows adults unrestricted access to your child is not age appropriate. Messaging apps are particularly dangerous.
Some popular apps to be extremely cautious of or avoid all together:
As moms, we are tasked with growing and protecting our kids into life changing adults. While the risks and dangers of technology are a lot to take in, it’s the only way to protect our children. It may be awkward and uncomfortable to have these conversations, but our children’s safety and innocence are worth it.
For more information, visit Micah’s Promise to learn about their work and how you can get involved in safeguarding your children and the children in your community.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Stephanie Hollifield of Momstrosity. It originally appeared on their blog. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.
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