The rise in popularity of social media sites over the last ten years hasn’t just been driven by adults. A study by the AACAP estimates that 60% of thirteen to seventeen year olds have at least one social media profile. 88% of teens have cell phones, or access to one. Because of this, kids are exposed to online threats, such as cyberbullying and social media predators, on a medium that is increasingly harder for parents to monitor.
What Are Social Media Predators?
Social networks give online sexual predators easy, anonymous access to vast amounts of kids. Social media predators use networks like Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook to search for and groom children for sexual encounters. Snapchat is particularly favored among predators because the messages are deleted from the Snapchat server after they have been reviewed.
Sexual predators use child grooming to lower children’s inhibitions against sexual abuse. Predators relate to kid’s emotions and play on their insecurities in order to gain their trust, then gradually introduce sex into conversation, normalizing it. They seek to drive a wedge between a child’s relationship with their family and friends, telling kids they are the only person that understands them and the only person they can trust.
Social media platforms are the perfect hunting ground for online predators because many kids are ready and willing to share photographs and information about themselves and their location, even with strangers.
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Sharing one’s location on social media can put anyone at risk, but the threat of abduction is higher for children and teens. “Checking in” on social sites like Facebook lets anyone with access to their profile see where they are, and sometimes who they are with. Snapchat recently included a Snap Map in their app, making it possible for friends to see where they are when Snapchat is open.
How to Protect Young Children
Don’t allow children to have social media accounts if they haven’t reached the age restriction for the app. Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat all have an age limit of thirteen to have an account. This is because it takes twelve to thirteen years for the human brain to develop the cognitive ability to think ethically. In other words, kids aren’t able to always make the right decisions, in life and online. If you feel like your child is ready for social media, there are plenty of social sites just for children. It should be noted that most of these are for kids eight and up.
Be a positive influence. Yes, every parent takes a five minute mental break from their children to look at their phone, but it’s best to keep it to a minimum in front of your kids. Kids imitate their parents because parents are the most important role model in their lives. The more time you spend scrolling through Facebook in front of them, the more they want to know what the whole social media thing is about.
Try to be a responsible social sharer. Be careful not to overshare on social media, especially when it comes to your kids. Of course your children are adorable, and naturally you want to share that with your friends/the world, but social media predators can target children through the social accounts of their families. Rather than go dark on social, adjust your privacy settings so only friends can see what you share, and make sure those friends are people that you actually know.
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How to Protect Teens
Note: these suggestions are not going to make you popular, but if you are raising a teenager you are probably used to it by now.
71% of teens use more than one social networking site. Social media presents teens with a community at their fingertips. They get instant gratification from approval from their peers. It’s not surprising that they want to be on it all the time.
Set some ground rules for your teen and some consequences for breaking those rules. Discuss the rules and why they are in place. Inform your teens about their digital footprint and the dangers of the web – the Internet is forever and trolls are abundant. Let them know that it is never okay for someone to ask for photographs of their body, even if it’s a peer or a friend. You never know where that picture may end up.
Limit mobile device use at night and keep the computer in a place where you can keep your eye on it and what your kids do on it. I know it sounds like helicopter parenting, but kids can be sneaky, especially if they are being coached by social media predators.
Make sure your teens use strict privacy settings on their social accounts. This will restrict strangers from seeing what they post. Let them know that it is perfectly fine to block someone from seeing their account, even if it is a person they know.
Follow your kids on social when possible and have login credentials for all of their social accounts. I’m not saying log in to their Facebook and check their messages every day, but it’s important to have that information in case you suspect something is wrong.
Related Read: Cyberbullying: How to Protect Your Kids Online
Signs Your Child Could Be in Trouble
Here is some behavior to watch for that may indicate your child is being groomed by a social media predator:
- Chatting with and sending personal information to strangers
- Visiting adult websites
- Hiding chat or phone call history, or having accounts you didn’t know about
- Obsession with being online – they get really upset when you take away the phone or Internet access
The most important thing you can do is talk to your kids about social media predators. Sure, this is a talk that might be uncomfortable for all parties involved, but not talking about it isn’t going to keep your kids safe. Be honest with them, be willing to field the hard questions, and let them know that you are always available for a chat.
For more information visit InternetSafety101.com.