Each April, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) joins other organizations across the country to honor National Child Abuse Prevention Month. This year, alarming data from 2021 makes one thing more critical than ever—it's time to talk about child safety and online exploitation.
Here at NCMEC, child safety is our top priority. Today, more than ever, children are spending more time on the internet. With unlimited opportunities in the online world, the looming threat of exploitation and increased vulnerability for children is also present. In the year 2021 alone, NCMEC’s CyberTipline received 29.3 million reports of suspected child exploitation, up from 21.7 million reports in 2020.
Although the growing threat of online exploitation can seem overwhelming, the answer is simple: talk to your child. One of the best ways to keep your child safe from online forms of abuse is to engage them in frequent and simple conversations about healthy relationships and boundaries.
We know that the task of keeping your children safe online can be intimidating, so consider following these NetSmartz tips to get started:
Step One: Establish Guidelines
When it comes to online activities and electronic devices, be sure to set clear boundaries with your children. This includes deciding on what kind of websites they can visit, apps they can download, who they have access to online and when they’re allowed to have access to different types of devices.
NCMEC Quick Tip: Consider “blackout” periods that require disconnection or a “digital curfew” that means no devices after a certain hour.
Step Two: Do your Research and Be Proactive
Online enticement happens across all online platforms, so be aware of the sites, games and apps that your children frequently use. Teach your kids to spot common tricks used by online offenders and be prepared to spot red flags in online behavior.
NCMEC Quick Tip: Don’t pull the plug on your child’s electronics. Instead of taking away internet access, show your child that you’re willing to listen and respond calmly, even if what you hear makes you uncomfortable.
Step Three: Engage and Get Involved!
Your kids might not want to tell you everything but ask anyway! Regular conversations about safety can go a long way when it comes to building trust and increasing communication. Get involved with your children’s online activities and respect their interests!
NCMEC Quick Tip: Take a genuine interest in the games and platforms your children enjoy, ask them to show you how they work or even offer to play a game with them.
For more 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. Consider showing your child the latest season of our animated web series, Into the Cloud, and then use the companion discussion guides and activities to start a dialogue with your kids!
In addition, follow along all month on NCMEC’s social media platforms as we bring awareness to National Child Abuse Prevention Month: https://www.facebook.com/missingkids/