Jan 02, 2018

Serious man wearing a hood sitting in the dark using a laptop

With the rise in smartphone and internet usage by children, the landscape of online predation has changed drastically. It’s no longer solely a matter of protecting kids from pornography, it’s now become an issue of kids sharing explicit photos and videos at their own will and then being exploited by predators. Social media and the access of a camera phone (with location data) is making it easier than ever for sexual predators and cyberbullies to target kids through what experts are calling “sextortion”.

The FBI recently issued a warning on the rise of “sextortion” cases], stating that online predators are now befriending kids on social media and convincing them to take explicit photos, then using bullying tactics to get the minors to send pornographic videos. Kids are being conned into taking photos, thinking it’s a relatively innocent exchange, and then being forced to continue through manipulation and blackmail.

The rise in sextortion is also added by teens sharing more information about themselves on social media sites than they did in the past. Here are some of the kinds of information these teens are posting:

  • 92% post a real name
  • 91% post a photo of themselves
  • 71% post their school name
  • 71% post the city or town where they live
  • 53% post their email address
  • 20% post their cell phone number

Pew research center graphs showing that many teens share a lot of personal information on social media

With almost all teens on Facebook (92%) using their real name and sharing photos (91%), social media has become a hotbed for online predator activity. It’s creating a sense of friendship and comfort among minors that makes it easier for them to let their guard down. So, how can parents and caregivers protect children from these types of online predators? It starts with education and open communication.

Keep Open Communication

While it can be difficult for parents to talk to their kids about online predators and sexual exploitation, it’s essential to keeping them safe. Before a child is allowed to have any sort of social media account, parents and caregivers should be speaking openly about the dangers of online predators and cyberbullying. Kids should know the dangers of sending explicit photos or videos and that any person asking for these kinds of media should be reported to an adult. Sexual curiosity is a normal part of growing up. Parents can help keep communication flowing by explaining that if a child is being exploited, they should feel comfortable telling an adult or speaking with police.

Set Privacy and Security Settings

For minors especially, it is essential to have strict security settings in place. Parents should also be monitoring their child’s social media activity by becoming “friends” on various social media accounts and being present while kids are using social media in the house. Using a Family Contract, is a great way to create healthy boundaries for your family.

Keep Phones/Computers in Communal Areas

The FBI suggests keeping all cell phones and personal computers in a communal location. Special Agent John Letterhos, who works with the Child Exploitation Task Force in Charlotte, NC, told reporters that he’s noticed video and photos in “sextortion” cases were almost always taken inside the bedroom. By requiring kids to use social media in the living room or other communal locations, it helps prevent this kind of dangerous activity.

By speaking openly with kids about the dangers of social media, sexting, and online predators, parents can better prepare children for the dangers of online activity. Kids need to know that everything put online can be accessed by others, even when only shared with people they know. It’s easy for a picture or video to be saved and shared, creating an opportunity for predators and cyberbullies to take advantage of the situation. Setting strict security parameters and keeping cell phones and personal computers in a communal area are good ways to monitor online activity. For parents looking for added security, parental control software like Net Nanny® are available to better protect children from online predators and pornography.

Carli Leavitt

Carli Leavitt is a public relations specialist and avid blogger who is passionate about the safety of children in the digital age. Follow her on Twitter @CarliLeavitt