There are plenty of inconveniences that have come along because of strict COVID-19 lockdowns. But at least parents whose kids are stuck at home know where their children are and that they’re safe. Right?
The truth is that COVID-19 may have actually created more dangers for children stuck at home with computers as their primary means of entertainment and communication with the outside world. Take a look at what you need to know about how COVID-19 lockdowns are creating more opportunities for sexual predators.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that predators use online connections to find children to exploit. They use social media websites, hookup apps, and chat features that kids frequent. They connect with children and manipulate them into talking online, sharing explicit images and videos, and even meeting up in person.
That hasn’t changed. What has changed is the number of children currently available to these kinds of predators.
Children who normally might have been busy with offline friends and activities are now stuck home, surfing the internet for entertainment. The hours are different too. During times when most children might have been unavailable – school hours, perhaps, or even late at night for those who are doing asynchronous classes and have adopted more of a night-owl schedule – children are more available, creating easier targets for predators.
The level of supervision children receive online may have changed with COVID-19 as well. You may think that your children are safe because you know where they are – at home. But are you working from home while your children are attending school online? Do you have to work outside the home during times when your children would normally be at school, at daycare, or on playdates?
Many parents are finding they’re not able to supervise their children’s online activity as closely as they did before the pandemic. Unfortunately, this means that more children are unprotected from predators online.
It’s a mistake to think that your children can’t get into serious trouble on the internet simply because they aren’t leaving the house.
For one thing, predators often use manipulation and even extortion to convince children to send them explicit images or videos. They know how to talk a child into sending just one piece of content that’s even mildly suggestive or questionable. Once they have that, they’ll use it as blackmail to force the child to continue to send more, and more specific and overt, content.
Children often comply with such demands, believing that if they don’t, their previous messages will be revealed to friends and family, leading to humiliation, shame, and even punishment. They don’t realize that they’re being taken advantage of.
Worse, predators will often upload explicit content involving kids to porn sites, something that’s simple to do but can have devastating, long-term effects on a young person’s life.
Another thing to consider is that just because a child is at home currently doesn’t mean they’ll stay there. Teens and tweens have been well-known to sneak out of their homes of their own volition, and some are even more likely to do so if someone is egging them on. And in many cases, that someone is a predator.
For instance, Virginia man Nathan Larson faces kidnapping charges for convincing a 12-year-old Fresno girl to leave her home and meet him at an airport. Since that arrest, police say that more victims have been speaking out and that Larson was able to reach so many victims by connecting with them online.
Law enforcement is working aggressively to ensure that children are safe online. For example, the Attorney General for the State of New Jersey launched Operation Screen Capture, an initiative intended to target those exploiting children sexually online, and has announced more than 20 arrests.
But law enforcement can’t be everywhere, and often they only come into a case after a crime has occurred. Parents and families need to be proactive about protecting their children. But what’s a parent to do?
Even parents who normally limit and supervise screen time are finding this difficult to do in a pandemic-influenced world where much entertainment, education, and communication is concentrated online in a way that it wasn’t pre-pandemic.
Luckily, parents do have some tools at their disposal:
Parental monitoring software has always been useful, but it’s even more essential in difficult, digitally dependent times like these. To find out more about how WebWatcher can help, get our free trial.