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How Parents Can Protect Their Kids From Online Predators

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Unfortunately, online grooming is a bigger problem than ever. Gone are the days where sexual predators are lone wolfs acting on their own. We have reached a time where the advent of the dark web has given birth to a new ‘super-predator’. The dark web provides a level of secrecy, anonymity and global connectedness that we have never experienced before. Sexual predators have literally setup ‘training schools’ with thousands of networked like-minded individuals where they share tips and strategies on how to groom children the fastest, avoid law enforcement/parents, how to get nude media quickly and even methods on how to abduct the child. They are able to learn the most successful journey to lead a child down that induces maximum manipulation. Hence the term ‘super-predator’.

Consequently, we need to up our game as parents and educate our kids on how to identify these kinds of threats.

How to Protect Our Kids

We first need to understand how predators operate so we can learn how to spot the tell-tale signs.

There are 6 recognised typical stages of child grooming [1];

1) Target Selection & Profiling

Predators actively profile their targets using social media websites. They use it like a supermarket, researching and picking the ones they are most interested in pursuing. They want to prey on those most vulnerable and typically this means targeting children who are evidently emotionally vulnerable, those who are clearly independent / strong willed, not from a stable family or those who isolate themselves from family and friends.

2) Gaining Trust

The predator will try and side with the child on grievances they have with their friends and parents. Kids vent through social media so it is not hard for a predator to see when a child is having issues at home. Predators have been known to use voice-altering software to impersonate another child to gain their trust. They sympathise, explaining its unfair, that their parents are treating them “like a child” and that they should have the freedom to do whatever they want. This builds rapport and starts the ‘us-against-them’ mentality that is needed for the next stage.

3) Filling a Need

Strategically, the predator will save the sexual seduction until last. This third stage intensifies the relationship, laying the groundwork for sexual conversations later. This grooming phase involves making the child feel special, showers them in compliments, compassion and ‘love’. This might be done through things like offering online credit for games, gift vouchers and fake modelling opportunities.

4) Isolating the Child

The predator starts to create a ‘special relationship’ with the child. Techniques deployed here will turn them against their parents and convince them that their friends aren’t real friends. The aim is to reduce the child’s world down to just them and the predator so that they have nowhere else to turn.

5) Sexual Seduction

Worryingly, predators often reach this final stage without even having to coerce the child into being sexual. The process and their grooming techniques employed are designed to make the child feel like everything has been their idea and that they are actually acting more independently than ever. This is often when children are unwittingly manipulated into meeting the predators (e.g. for a swimming lesson) or even run away together.

6) Maintain Control

Predators then use tactics to maintain this ‘special relationship’ by convincing them they are to blame and shame them into silence, blackmail, sextortion and threats of physical harm if they tell anyone.

Tell-Tale Signs

There are some tell-tale signs which might indicate your child is in trouble;

  • Have unusual access to drugs or alcohol for their age
  • Overly secretive about having older boyfriends / girlfriends / friends
  • Have new gifts they cannot explain
  • Go to meet a ‘friend’ in unusual locations

Sarah's Law

In the US, many states allow the public to look-up where registered sex offenders live. If you move to a new neighbourhood or your kids start at a new school, it might be well worth a quick glance. For the UK, the sex offenders register is not publicly available. However, if you are unsure about someone who might be acting suspiciously, you can use the Child Sex Offender Disclosure Scheme (also known as ‘Sarah's law’) to notify the police of your concerns, as it obliges the police to investigate. You will be asked to justify the grounds for the request as many people abuse the process to try and slander people’s names and reputations. For more information on this, see the link at the bottom of the page. If you suspect someone you know is being harassed or groomed online, please call the police immediately.

Prevention

  • Social Media Over-Sharing: the very first stage of grooming is to perform reconnaissance on the kids and social media is the perfect tool in the super-predator’s arsenal. Follow the advice in Privacy Settings to lock down social media privacy settings and be cognisant of the things your kid’s post publicly online. Check this post here I did.
  • Education: kids need to be able to identify stranger-danger online when parents aren’t around so re-familiarise yourself with the advice in Education to ensure your children are aware of the risks that exist online. Check this post here I did.
  • Parental Control Software: software like Qustodio (discussed in Accessing Inappropriate Content) helps keep an eye on the interactions your kids have with others online and on social media. It’ll help you identify when users purporting to be kids may actually be adults and allow you to take immediate action to block them. Check this post here I did.
  • Anti-Virus Software: something like Bitdefender will protect your child’s devices and prevent the predator from sending malware to your child. They may do this to try and gain privileged access to photos, videos or webcams without yours or your child’s knowledge. Check this post here I did.
  • Locating Devices: the products discussed in Geo-Tracking help parents identify when kids are concealing things from them. For example, if they say they’re going over to their best friend’s house and actually you see they’re going somewhere else. Check this post here I did.

Top Tip: one insightful exercise you can do is ask your kids to make a list of adults in their lives who they trust. This can be revealing both in terms of who they may not trust but also who they might include who they probably shouldn’t.

Whilst this is pretty scary stuff, there is a lot parents can do to protect their kids from these kinds of threats. Checkout these protection plans here to find out everything you can do!

 

References;

[1] http://www.sasorg.co.uk/6-stages-of-grooming/

2 thoughts on “How Parents Can Protect Their Kids From Online Predators

  1. Kristel Vil says:

    Anyone can be a victim of online predators and everyone should be educated on the dangers of online activity. We have a rule in our house the rule that the computer use only happens in the common areas of the home and never in the kids bedrooms. I believe that as parents we need to be make sure we educate our kids about Online Safety and make them cyber smart as soon as they start using internet on regular basis.

    • Jonny Pelter says:

      Yes Kristel, it is unfortunate but it is an ever growing threat nowadays. Thats a good rule to have but for parents who have children who might be slighter older (with their own smartphones) it can be slighter harder to manage - we still advise no smartphones in the bedroom (this helps with screentime too) and recommend getting a family 'charging station' in a common area e.g. landing or corridor, so that everyone can put their phones on charge before they go to bed.

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