Grooming, aka Online Predator Behavior

May 18, 2011

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Being in the industry of protecting families makes me more aware of issues like online predators than the average person. Curious whether I had an over inflated view of the issue, I randomly asked a 14 year old girl (whom I know) whether she has ever been approached by a strange man online. She responded by saying, "More than once." I have no statistical data to back up this claim, but I assume that for every report we hear in the news, there are substantially more cases of online stalking that haven't been detected or reported. For as much as we protect our kids from talking to strangers on the playground, it is equally important, if not more so, to teach our kids to not talk to strangers online. 

I read an article posted in the beginning of the month (you can read it here), that tells a story of a man in Florida who picked up a girl in Nebraska to bring her back home. The lengths this predator went through are no less than shocking and a little scary. The story includes a list of tactics online predators use to "catch" the innocent and what parents can do to prevent this from happening. Following are a few points I found most relevant:
 Predators' tools

  • Targeted sites: social networking, blogs, chat rooms, instant messaging, email, discussion boards
  • Seduction techniques: attention, affection, kindness, gifts
  • Building trust: familiar with pop culture of interest to kids
  • Break down inhibitions: gradually introducing sexual content into conversations or share sexually explicit material
  • Test the water: invite future face-to-face contact

Parents' arsenal

  • Education: Talk to your kids about sexual predators, potential online dangers, how to recognize them, and how to avoid them
  • Parental Control Software: Make sure your parental control software includes monitoring and reports to help you see what your kids comed across online 
  • Follow the rules: Social networking sites require a minimum age for use. These guidelines are meant to keep your kids safe 

Other warnings:

  • Chat rooms are not for every age: be sure you know which ones your kids are using
  • Never allow your kids to enter a "private" chat room
  • Keep computers in open areas of the home, and sit with your kids from time to time while they're online to see where they go