One of the earliest safety lessons that parents give their children is “don’t talk to strangers.” However, this relatively simple rule gets much more complex once your child has access to an internet-enabled device, where talking to strangers is part of the design of many different platforms. It’s understandable for parents to worry that their child might be talking to the wrong strangers on the internet–and there are plenty of child predators out there using the internet to make contact. Understanding how child predators engage with kids online can help you understand better how to protect your child.
How do child predators locate their victims in the first place? That part is fairly simple–they go where the kids are. Child predators make accounts on social media and gaming sites that are attractive to children in order to make contact with kids.
Sites with chat rooms are a particular risk. Many gaming sites have chat rooms where players can talk to each other—sometimes even if they aren’t on each other’s friend lists. Some social media sites, like Omegle, are designed to let strangers connect with each other in chat rooms. Others, like Facebook, are theoretically for friending people that the user knows in real life, but it’s easy to meet strangers in groups and end up adding them to your friends’ list.
A large list of online friends on a gaming or social media site is often seen as a sign of popularity, which can encourage kids to be less than choosy about accepting friend requests. Child predators also frequently lie about who they are–they may pose as a child of a similar age as your child, or as a female when they’re really male–whatever they think will help a child trust them.
Once a child predator makes contact with your child, they’ll begin the grooming process. Basically, their goal is to ingratiate themselves with your child. They’ll express a shared interest in your child’s interests and hobbies, pay them compliments, and listen to their problems and complaints with a sympathetic ear.
Eventually, the child begins to feel like they know the predator. They’ll see them as a trusted friend. At that point, the predator will begin to push boundaries. They may ask for an in-person meeting or encourage your child to send them pictures of themselves. Picture requests may start out innocuous but eventually progress to nude or sexually explicit poses. The predator may also push your child to reveal private and potentially embarrassing information.
Once your child has met with the predator, sent them pictures, or divulged private information, the predator can use that information to exploit your child further. For example, they may threaten to post compromising pictures or information publicly if the child doesn’t send them more pictures, or do something else that they want.
Predators also emotionally manipulate their victims. Your child may believe that the predator is their friend or even that they’re in love. Predators use these feelings to manipulate your child into doing things that they may not otherwise do, like entering into a sexual relationship.
Knowing what websites your child is using and who they’re talking to is an important part of protecting your child from predators. Parental monitoring software can help by giving you specific details about your child’s online activity. To find out how parental monitoring software can help you protect your child, get our free trial.