April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and it’s an important time to talk about the online exploitation of children. Today, children are spending more time at home and they’re spending more time on the internet. The ability to learn and play online has been a lifeline for many children and families this past year; however, it also comes with increased vulnerability to online exploitation. In the year 2020 alone, we’ve seen the rate of incidents of online enticement increase 97.5% compared to the year prior
The threat of online exploitation can seem overwhelming, but the answer is simple: talk to your child. Among the best ways to keep your child safe from online forms of abuse is to engage them in conversation about healthy relationships and boundaries. You may be thinking, ‘What’s the point? My kid won’t listen anyway’; but research shows that parents have a bigger influence on their kid’s decision-making than they think. According to a recent study conducted by Thorn, 8 out of 10 kids ages 9-12 say that parents/caregivers are the biggest source of influence when it comes to the decisions they make about how to behave online! More than teachers, friends and even their favorite celebrities, most kids said their parents ranked highest among those who influence their online behavior.
We know that talking to your kid about online safety can be intimidating, so here are some tips to get started:
A lot of the same things that keep children safe offline will protect them while they’re online. According to Susan Kennedy, prevention program manager at NCMEC, the most important factor in prevention is making sure your children are connected to caring adults who can have open conversations with them about things like good boundaries, consent and self-esteem.
For help navigating these conversations, visit https://www.missingkids.org/netsmartz, NCMEC’s website dedicated to providing parents and educators with resources for teaching children about internet safety. Show your child the latest season of our animated web series, Into the Cloud, then use the companion discussion guides and activities to start a dialogue! Kids can explore videos and games about online safety independently at www.NetSmartzKids.org.
Online safety is about more than stranger danger. While it’s tempting to just tell kids not to talk to strangers online, unfortunately, it’s not that simple. It’s not uncommon for an abuser to be a trusted adult in the child’s life with whom they have an online relationship. Even when an abuser is a stranger, children may not see them that way.
“It doesn’t take long for a stranger to become a friend,” said Jenna-Lyn Ryckebush, a supervisor on NCMEC’s CyberTipline. According to Ryckebush, in the age of online gaming and social media, kids are used to forming online friendships with children who share their interests and hobbies. For many children, being part of an online community can be a source of confidence and inspire personal growth; but, these relationships also present unique risks.
Speak to your child about online safety early and often. When is the last time your kid listened to you the first time? From cleaning their room and finishing homework to practicing online safety, children need consistent reminders and reinforcement at any age. It’s never too early to start having these conversations. Children are becoming tech-savvy at an increasingly earlier age with even young children using internet enabled devices for schoolwork, entertainment and staying connected to friends and family.
For more resources related to preventing online exploitation, visit www.missingkids.org/netsmartz.