If you are the guardian of a little child who you are introducing to the worldwide web, you probably have concerns about online sexual predators and how they might find your kid.
The good news is that “aggressive” solicitation, which includes attempts to contact a child offline, is not very likely to happen. It’s even less likely for a child to be victimized: “The evidence from the N-JOV Study (Wolak et al., 2004) suggests that online molesters are not among that minority of child offenders who abduct or assault victims because they have sadistic tendencies or lack the interpersonal skills to gain the confidence and acquiescence of victims (Lanning, 2002).” Among those giving aggressive solicitation, far fewer are made by old men (or even, sometimes, women) than by minors themselves.
The bad news is that there are still thousands of predators prowling online everyday, hunting, grooming, and manipulating. While most predators target only adolescents, kids who are not raised with an awareness of how to conduct themselves online for their own protection and who are not given proper emotional support and guidance to understand the online environment grow up to be more vulnerable than their peers.
How can you ensure that your young one is able to navigate the internet safely, now and in the future? Teaching the basic concepts early on can protect him or her from the threat that is still very real.
1. Keep Personal Information Private
While this is the most obvious rule, many young children don’t understand the consequences behind mentioning little things, like their siblings’ names or if they will take a trip somewhere. If you have not made the reasons behind keeping personal information, like phone numbers, names, ages, and so forth, secret from people online, your little one will not think that keeping information from the friends she has made online is the same thing as keeping the information from complete strangers.
2. Involve Yourself
It’s easy to make a list of rules and leave it at that, but as your kid grows up and becomes more savvy online, he could start to bend the rules or he could find himself in a situation that does not seem to be covered by the guidelines you put in place. Keeping tabs on the wholesome fun your child has means you’re more likely to catch any potential problems.
3. Keep Them Off Chatrooms
Chatrooms are some of the most dangerous places for kids on the internet. Predators love to use them; even chats dedicated to specific games, like Minecraft, can bombard the innocent with wholly inappropriate content, whether someone solicits them or not. Even if certain words or commands are blocked on any given chat, people are always adapting and finding ways around those filters.
4. Place Devices in the Open
When you keep the devices used by children out in the open, you will always have the chance to monitor their activity as you go about your day. This is one of the easiest ways to keep your kid honest and safe.
5. Limit Time Online
When your child spends too much time online, you will struggle more to keep up with what she is doing, but it also allows her to build her identity more around what happens online than off. This can create an unhealthy dependency on the internet and how people react to her there.
As your little one gets older, you need to stay involved in his online activities. You can monitor his chatroom usage, teach him about privacy settings, instruct him about why he should never download images from unknown sources, and make sure any meet-ups he wants are under your supervision. Nothing can keep him safer than your active involvement in his life, and starting young can make all the difference.