April 19, 2019
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. This article is the first in a series about how to protect your children from predators and prevent abuse.
The increasing number of social media sites, instant messaging apps, dating apps and online gaming platforms provides a variety of outlets for sexual predators to connect with children. Grooming is a word used to describe people gaining the trust of children for the purposes of sexual abuse, exploitation and/or trafficking. Children and teens can be groomed online or in person by males or females of any age, all without recognizing the severity of what is happening or could happen.
Groomers often familiarize themselves with a child's interests, develop a relationship and engage in sexual, or otherwise exploitative behavior without ever meeting in person. Frequently, groomers target more than one child, sending mass messages to increase their likelihood of a connection.
How can you protect your child from being a victim? Start with these tips from Arkansas Children's:
Knowing the potential dangers that exist online, it is essential to remain aware of the platforms your child is using. Below you'll find a list of popular platforms, but keep in mind that there are countless others with new ones popping up all the time.
Age requirements are standard for most social networking platforms. The minimum age to open an account on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and Kik is 13. YouTube currently requires account holders to be 18, but children 13 years and older can join with a parent's permission.
For online gaming platforms, age requirements vary. For Xbox Live, Microsoft will request parental consent if an account is registered for someone under the age of 18. Sony's online network for Playstation offers two types of accounts: Master Accounts for ages 18 and older and Sub Accounts for children ages 7 to 17. Nintendo Switch Online and Steam can each be used by account holders beginning at the age of 13.
Dating apps are intended for adults only. As many of these apps encourage face-to-face encounters, it is strongly recommended that children under the age of 18 stay away.
Many app stores also offer settings that will notify you of anything your child tries to download. This will give you the opportunity to approve any social platform before your child gains access to it.
Profiles on most social networking platforms can be set to private, meaning nobody can connect with or “follow” your child online without their permission. Encouraging your child to have a private profile on social media promotes the importance of only connecting with people they already know.
Filters have long been used by parents to protect children from exposure to explicit material online. Installing filters is one of the most effective ways to keep your child from gaining access to websites or apps that could put them at risk.
Avoid putting computers, mobile devices and tablets in your child’s bedroom. This way, children won’t be left unsupervised while online and parents can monitor how much screen time is logged. Spending too much time online, especially during nighttime hours, can be an indicator of a problem.
Talk to your children about potential online dangers and remind them to never speak to strangers, even online. Tell your kids never to open emails, messages or chat messages from people they don't know and help them understand that they should not provide any personal information to strangers such as their age, phone number or where they live. Have this conversation often to stress the importance of awareness.
To learn more about the risk of online child sexual predators, visit Internetmatters.org. If you suspect your child is a victim of online grooming or any other form of abuse, reach out to the medical and mental health experts at the Arkansas Children’s Clark Center for Safe and Healthy Children. Anyone suspecting abuse or neglect of a child should contact the AR Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-482-5964.