As the world health crisis continues, many families in our state are adjusting to life in an upside-down world.
One thing is certain: children are at greater risk for abuse than ever before. Children in abusive homes are cut off from their schools and support networks, and they’re also spending more time online, perhaps unknowingly interacting with predators.
It’s an overwhelming time for us all, but children need our help and protection now.
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, and we want to help families protect children during this health crisis, and every day. The Beau Biden Foundation is working to transition our child abuse prevention training to online workshops and address the needs of children in this “new normal environment.”
Here are a few simple things you can do at home and questions you should ask your child’s school to help keep children safe from abuse in the new world we find ourselves living and learning in.
• Discuss (and model) good digital behavior. Adults should talk to children and teens about good digital citizenship. Advise children not to send mean messages, not to ask for or send inappropriate photos, and to respect everyone’s in-person and online boundaries. Remind children that the Internet is both public and permanent. Send is forever. Remember that children look up to adults, and you should model the behaviors you’re discussing.
• Know and check the apps children and teens are using. Potential harm can come from anywhere — social media apps open doors to online predators. It is critical to have honest conversations with children and teens about how they spend their time on their smartphones and tablets. A list of 15 Apps Law Enforcement Recommends Parents Know is widely available online and on the Beau Biden Foundation’s site at www.BeauBidenFoundation.org/15Apps.
• Make sure your child gets a break from being online all the time. You wouldn’t let them watch television all day — the same should be true about their time online. Sign an Electronic Device Agreement. A simple contract for a child’s use of a smartphone, tablet or gaming console will help set expectations, boundaries and consequences. There are at least 500,000 predators online every day, hunting and grooming children for future abuse. Children may not understand how prevalent predators are online, having rules and expectations written down really helps children understand expectations, boundaries and consequences.
• Find out what your child’s school is doing to protect children from abuse. We’ve been thrust into virtual learning environments. Whether it’s Zoom® or Google Hangouts™, today classes are online. It’s imperative that schools and other youth-serving organizations using video conferencing platforms adhere to the same code of conduct and responsibility to children as they would in a real classroom. It’s imperative that schools and youth-serving organizations have a child protection policy to ensure the safety of a child’s virtual learning environment.
Internet trolls and online anarchists are invading these chat rooms with hateful language and inappropriate images. Video conferencing platforms have some built-in safety measures, but not all users know how to activate them.
The Beau Biden Foundation is already working with a handful of schools to ensure teachers can assess a child’s safety through a webcam and secure virtual learning environments. Ask your child’s school if they have policies in place.
Lastly, just breathe. Stress levels are high as the shelter-in-place order continues and income is in question, a scenario that can lead to an explosion of child abuse. Children are without their normal outlets and confidants at school or afterschool programs, and they need help. Take a minute before you react and just breathe. We are all in this together.
As we often say, the keys to protecting our children from abuse, both off and on-line, are not complicated. They are not controversial nor hard to implement. When parents and caregivers are informed — and trained — many tragedies can be avoided.
Please, be safe and be well during this tumultuous time — and help protect the children in your life.