Knowledge around child protection has expanded in an increasingly digital world and requires broader protections. Some basic facts about the grooming of children and families for abuse remain the same, one in ten children will be sexually abused before the age of 18, and 90% of the abusers are known to the child or the family. Bringing awareness to this issue is one of the most important things parents and caregivers can do to protect children during this health crisis.
Significantly, it is important to realize that this type of abuse is preventable.
First and foremost, interactions between children and adults should be continuously observable and interruptible – in-person and online. Grooming by predators and abuse of children is largely an offense of isolation. Keeping a constant watch, as well as listening to what children are doing online provides observable and interruptible supervision. With children attending school and engaging in programming online, those interactions – group meetings, emails, text messages, chat conversations, phone calls – as well as in-person interactions it is important to remember the basic rule that there should not be isolated one on one interaction. This includes family members, friends of the family, physicians, teachers, coaches, and mentors.
It’s also important for parents and caretakers to be aware, be present, and be observant. If parents are absorbed in binge-watching or checking Facebook, an opportunity to notice a child hiding their phone under the table or increased anxiety after receiving a message or alert on their phone will be missed. Parental control software – while an excellent safety measure – is inadequate without a continued conversation with children about why it’s necessary to keep them safe online.
It is also important to be aware that many victimized children are ashamed or afraid to tell their parents when they have engaged in inappropriate online behavior – a significant problem that law enforcement encounters. This leads to further victimization, and victimization that is deeper and more complex. One of the major reasons that children don’t tell their parents about inappropriate messaging/solicitation by an online predator is that children are afraid of the reaction of their parents. Ensuring children have trusted adults to turn to is key, and making sure those trusted adults respond appropriately is likewise important. Being prepared for the disclosure by a child requires some preparation.
Fact: Children routinely admit in surveys that they listen to their parents’ guidance more than anyone else’s (even though they might never tell you!).
Common grooming strategies by predators are particularly effective on a child’s developing brain. Predators have the support of subscriber-based memberships on the dark web and instructional tools to educate on how to groom children, families, and the organizations that serve children.
Fact: The average age of a “gamer” in the U.S. is 35.
Parents must have open honest conversations about what children may observe or how they may be solicited online. A calm, knowledgeable, factual approach communicates to children that they have a trusted adult in their life who they can feel safe to talk with if they ever feel uncomfortable or pressured.
Fact: There are, at any time, 750,000 predators on the internet.
The Beau Biden Foundation has an array of family resources to help get the conversation started at https://www.beaubidenfoundation.org/resources/.
Our free eBook – Online Predators: What You Need to Know to Protect Your Children Today is a reliable resource to help talk with your children about online safety today.