We’ve done a great job of teaching our children to be wary of strangers in the real world. In my digital safety presentations children from 10 to 15 years of age are full of stories of what their parents have told them about stranger danger and how to protect themselves. From not taking sweets, food, drinks, drugs or stickers from strangers to not taking lifts, hitchhiking and definitely to avoid men parked in white vans outside their school!
However, online strangers with ugly motives are far harder to identify because:
- They definitely are old not men sitting in white vans outside school!
- They may be men or women and are often disguised eg. a 50-year old man using a girl’s name and photograph passing themselves off as 16 years of age
- They drop breadcrumbs for children to follow online in the form of responses to their posts and all they need is for your child to respond to one of them and they’re in the game
- Grooming online often starts with an innocent conversation that moves very quickly a private online chat on an app, to affirming a child and making them feel good about themselves (remember needing to be noticed and having someone pay attention to you especially if you happen to feel a little lonely or down at the time is extremely attractive to a tween or teen)
- Online predators don’t need to do an instant snatch as would happen in the physical world, they take time to build relationships based on ‘trust’ so that when they eventually ask to meet in the real world the targeted child just can’t resist and does so willingly
- Online predators know a lot about your child because so many children innocently post too much personal information about themselves leaving a trail that can lead right to your front door, to their bedrooms, to their school or to where they might be partying
You need to ensure you have conversations with your children about the potential dangers of online strangers and the need to protect themselves just as they do in the real world. Please watch this recently released video called Kayleigh’s Love Story and if you have children aged 13 upwards get them to watch with you after you have watched it first. It took just 15 days for 15-year old Kayleigh to be groomed by a 28-year old man on Facebook before she was brutally raped and murdered. It will make you and your children sit up and think. Real life stories, as frightening as they are, can serve as a wake-up call to act responsibly online.
In addition, please get them to read chapter 13 from my book Tech-Savvy Parenting – How children can keep themselves safe and savvy. It’s a chapter written just for children from 10 – 18 years of age which is an easy to read summary of why it is so important to protect their mind, their body and their reputation in the online and offline world. Click here to download.
The safety mantra I teach kids of all ages that underpins my digital safety workshops is that they have one mind, one body and one reputation. They are responsible for looking after these three precious things for the rest of their lives. Print this poster and put it up on your fridge door for discussion.
Please ensure that your child is not ignorant or left out of options on the digital superhighway. Their life may depend on it. The best safety app is the one you cannot buy. It’s their relationship with you. Go and connect!