- Cyber predators are having an easier time finding targets in the current environment.
- Parents may miss signs that their kids are in trouble because they assume their children are safe at home.
- Parental monitoring software is one tool parents can use to keep their kids safe from predators during the lockdown.
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.
How Predators Find Children
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.
Are Children Really Safe At Home?
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.
Danger Outside the Home
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.
What Parents Can Do
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:
- Talk to your children. There is no substitute for communication. Children need to know that threats exist online. They need to know that their safety is paramount. It may be necessary to reassure them that they won’t get in trouble if they report a threat to their safety to you, even if they admit to breaking a rule. No rule-breaking on your child’s part justifies being targeted by a predator, so prioritize their safety.
- Teach your children. Especially as they grow older, tweens and teens will not only need to learn how to recognize unsafe situations, they’ll need to develop their own tools for dealing with them. Your children should know how to block and report people who target or harass them on any site or app they use regularly. If they don’t know how to do this, work with them to find out, and make sure that they’re comfortable with the process.
- Set up safety rules. During a pandemic and lockdown, pre-pandemic rules may no longer work for your family. If that’s the case in your household, re-evaluate and set new ones. Perhaps you need to loosen up on screen time but tighten up on parental controls, for example.
- Make use of parental monitoring software. With parental monitoring software, you can get an overview of your child’s internet usage, get alerts about certain actions or keywords that might be worrying, and see what content your child is sending, receiving, and saving, among other things. This technology can help you keep on top of your child’s activity and keep them safe while allowing them some personal freedom.
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.