Giving Our Kids A Healthy Fear Of This Online Danger May Save Their Lives

We are living in a world where our lives seem to revolve around the Internet.  Adults, and particularly teens, spend hours every day getting their news and information online or communicating with family and friends on social media.

We are all aware of the dangers posed by living in the digital age.  The constant stream of technology has made parenting even more difficult than ever as we try to keep tabs on our children in this often secretive world.

But no matter how open we are with our kids, and despite our most fervent efforts to protect them, we are often not aware of everything they do online, or who they are talking to.  With online predators taking advantage of our kids and teens, sometimes they do not even know who they are communicating with – or the dangerous underworld they may be being groomed for.

Focus On The Family reported:

Any child or teen can be vulnerable to being groomed into the sex-slave industry; but, some are more vulnerable than others due to their innocence and lack of awareness of the danger. Traffickers consisting of both men and women are experts at psychological manipulation and constantly on the lookout for new “product.”

With that in mind, it becomes easier to see why they stalk the areas where children are likely to be found. The prevalence of stories involving children who put themselves in dangerous situations through texting or chatting with an online “friend” is alarming.

Even parents who have talked with their children about the dangers and risks of online relationships may later discover that their children have disregarded those warnings.

Sex trafficking of teens and young women is nothing new, but the vast reach of social media has made targeting our children an easy game for these predators.

Even when we openly discuss the dangers with our teens and monitor their online activity, these predators can pose as peers or friends, spending months “grooming” our children to gain their trust and then luring them to meet in person.

And this horrific world is not only comprised of grown men posing as teen boys with a romantic interest in our young girls – a situation which many girls are vulnerable to, often disregarding what they have been taught by us about staying safe.  There are also many adult women or even young girls already a part of this dark world who are forced to befriend our teens and lure them in.

This is the most horrific of situations for us to think about as parents.  It is bad enough that our teens may be taken advantage of online and suffer heartbreak, bullying, or other emotional trauma.  In the case of online sex trafficking, our children can be lured into a situation in which they can disappear forever.

This incomprehensible scenario is one that happens every day in America and worldwide, part of a growing industry with a vast underground network.  So what can we do to prevent our children from becoming another statistic?

Focus On The Family suggested:

  • Be Curious: As a parent, you know best when your child is ready to access today’s technology. It is a good idea to start them off with limited, closely-monitored computer and cell phone usage. Check the computer or phone for any new apps installed and stay informed as to what apps are dangerous.

If your older children already have established online habits and friendships, it may be difficult to institute new boundaries and rules for them. However, if every parent took a good look at their child’s digital devices, many would be surprised at what they found. It is better to be aware and safe, so ask about any suspicious activity sooner rather than later – when it could be too late. Remember, every sex trafficker wants your silence. They don’t want parents talking to their children or alerting them to potential dangers.

  • Be Aware of Dangerous Apps: If you see one of these applications on your child’s phone, tablet or computer, you should have a discussion with them about the dangers and consider uninstalling it immediately:
  1. INSTAGRAM®: Similar to Tumblr, but not quite as profane. Similar exposure potential exists.
  2. KIK MESSENGER: Messaging app that allows quick exchange of photos and information.
  3. POKE: Similar to Snapchat in that messages and images sent “self-destruct.”
  4. SNAPCHAT®: Messages, photos and videos sent through Snapchat disappear from the originating device within 10 seconds after being sent.
  5. TINDER®: Mainly used as a dating or anonymous hookup tool.
  6. TUMBLR®: A photo sharing app that has taken on a decidedly adult following and exposes its users to content that is pornographic or violent.
  7. WHISPER: This app’s purpose is to let people expose themselves to voyeurs, telling “secrets” and sharing images for others to view. It also shares its user’s physical location.
  8. YIK YAK: Social media app similar to Facebook; however, more commonly used by cyber-bullies and for quick hookups.
  • Use Software To Help: One of the best ways to keep your children safe is to monitor their activity. Even when you can’t do it directly, a variety of software programs and firewalls exist specifically to help parents limit downloading apps, send notification to the parents of online activities and block a computer or phone’s access to potentially dangerous sites. It is possible to be aware of every text or chat message your child receives, every video they watch on YouTube® (where many are quite explicit) and control the hours of their online access.

For our younger children, we must teach them the basics of online safety.  They should never give any personal information about themselves or your family with anyone they talk to online.

And for our older kids and teens, we must remind them of the dangers lurking online and keep an open dialogue about the fact that things may not always be as they seem.  Insist on meeting their friends in person and monitoring all of their online activity.

Let your kids know they should be very careful about posting photos of themselves online.  Predators will use any information they can to gain our children’s trust, using landmarks in photographs, knowledge of their school activities, or comments on their hobbies to gain access to their inner circle.

Encourage your teen to do their own research on sex trafficking and find safety tips for what these predators look for.  They may be surprised how many times they put themselves in danger online and on the radar of these dangerous traffickers.

As much as we want to keep our kids comfortable and make them feel secure, now is the time to put a healthy fear of danger into their minds.  Once they have a true understanding of the realities of what can happen to them, they may be more careful with what they post and who they talk to online.

Have you talked to your kids about sex trafficking?  It is not often a topic we discuss with our kids, but keeping it in the back of their minds may save their lives.

Leave us your thoughts, and share with other parents so they are aware of this terrible danger.

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