One area of increasingly growing concern is the world of video gaming, chat apps, and other online communication tools. While the likelihood of your child falling victim to an online predator is very slim, it is estimated that more than 500,000 predators are online daily.
• Children between the ages of 12 and 15 are most at danger of online grooming and manipulation.
• This age range accounts for more than 50% of victims of online sexual exploitation.
• A staggering 89% of all sexual advances toward minors happens in chat rooms or through instant messaging apps.
• In 27% of incidents, the predator asks for sexualized or nude photographs of children.
• 4% of the children contacted by predators are asked to meet in real life.
• 9% of children who use the internet receive some form of sexual solicitation.
Other children are more likely to pressure their peers into sending sexual images than adults. However, this does not detract from the very real risk posed by adult predators.
Two of the most popular online games for children and teens are Minecraft and Fortnite. Fortnite has over 250 million registered players, while Minecraft has around 91 million monthly players. With those numbers, it is not surprising that both games represent a potential hunting ground for predators.
Short of removing your children’s access to computers and consoles, there are steps you can take to protect your children while they are online.
• Know what games your children are playing. Get involved and show interest.
• Ensure your children use tags or nicknames while online and not their real names.
• Discuss online etiquette with them. Advise them never to give out any details such as names, locations, ages, etc.
• Keep online consoles and computers in areas of the home where you can monitor their activity.
• Have age-relevant discussions with them about online risks, including predators.
• Tell them that sometimes adults pretend to be children while online.
• Invest in a parental-control program for your children’s computer, console, and phone.
• Make sure your children are not afraid or embarrassed to talk to you if they experience any inappropriate activity while online.
• For older children, have frank discussions about the sharing of suggestive photographs.
The crucial foundation for all these preventative measures is to have good communication with your child. The idea of online predators is a terrifying concept, but it is important not to come across as overbearing or dictatorial. You want your child to come to you at the first sign of any inappropriate behavior from anyone they talk to online.
What to Do if an Incident Occurs
If you suspect your child has been targeted by an online predator, stay calm. Getting angry, although understandable, may cause your child to withhold crucial information. If there is any evidence, such as pictures or chats, screenshot all of them immediately. Do not delete them out of anger, as they may help law enforcement identify the perpetrator.
Report the offender to local law enforcement and other authorities. Block the predator on any platform they are using to communicate with your child and report their profile to those platforms.
If your child has experienced any form of online exploitation, you can report it to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at their Cyber Tipline. Other useful contacts include:
Protecting our children is a full-time job, and the idea that a predator can gain access to our homes through the internet is frightening. Calmness may be the last thing you wish to consider when you suspect online exploitation, but it is also the most crucial.