The Internet is much more anonymous than the real world. People can hide their identities or even pretend to be someone they're not. This can sometimes present a real danger to children and teens who are online. Online predators may try to lure kids and teens into sexual conversations or even face-to-face meetings. Predators will sometimes send obscene material or request that kids send pictures of themselves. Therefore, it's important to teach your kids to be on their guard whenever they're online.
Teens are generally more at risk from predators. Because they are curious and want to be accepted, they may talk to a predator willingly, even if they know it's dangerous. Sometimes teens may believe they are in love with someone online, making them more likely to agree to a face-to-face meeting.
NetSmartz.org has lots of information on Internet safety for parents and kids. It was created by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Go to NetSmartz.org to watch a series of videos covering this topic.
Thinkuknow.co.uk is an educational website created by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre. To learn more about the dangers of online predators, watch the video below.
Talking to kids about online predators
While it's not necessarily likely that your child will be contacted by a predator, the danger does exist. Below are some guidelines you can tell your kids to help them stay safe from online predators.
Avoid using suggestive screen names or photos. These can result in unwanted attention from online predators.
If someone is flattering you online, you should be wary. Although many people online are genuinely nice, predators may use flattery to try to start a relationship with a teen. This doesn't mean you need to be suspicious of everyone, but you should be careful.
Don't talk to anyone who wants to get too personal. If they want to talk about things that are sexual or personal, you should end the conversation. Once you get pulled into a conversation (or a relationship), it may be more difficult to stop.
Keep in mind that people are not always who they say they are. Predators may pretend to be children or teenagers to talk to kids online. They may use a fake profile picture and add other profile details to appear more convincing.
Never arrange to meet with someone you met online. Predators may try to arrange a face-to-face meeting with a child or teen. Even if the person seems nice, this can be dangerous.
Tell a parent or trusted adult if you encounter a problem. If anyone makes you feel uncomfortable online, you should tell a parent or trusted adult immediately. You should also save any emails or other communication because they may be needed as evidence.
If you think your child is being contacted by an online predator, seek immediate help from the following resources:
Local police: If your child is in immediate danger, you should call 911. Otherwise, you can call your local police's non-emergency number to report a problem.
CyberTipline: Visit www.cybertipline.com from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children or call (800) 843-5678 to report crimes against children, including online enticement of children for sexual acts, obscene material sent to a child, and child pornography.