How Moms Can Make a Difference in Ensuring Children’s Safety Online
Some moms may not find it comforting to be tasked with yet one more thing to manage for their children. Most mothers are already balancing neverending “to do” lists for their families while also trying to prioritize self-care occasionally.
Experienced moms know they have to pick their battles in parenting, but a 2020 study conducted by Pew Research indicates that the majority of parents today say parenting is harder now than it was in the past—and they cite technology and social media as the reason. As it turns out, this topic often leads to the ultimate battle for parents as they strive to protect their children from the harm that can result from the improper use of technology such as social media platforms, games, and chat apps.
The dangers to children from ever-expanding technology have been building up over the last two decades, at least, with little regulation in place to protect kids online. It took the COVID-19 pandemic to expose the magnitude of child exploitation happening in our country, as more than 21.7 million cases of inappropriate incidents have been reported to the CyberTipline (run by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children) in the last couple of years. This tragedy has developed primarily as a result of the pervasive child sexual abuse happening on well-known media platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Snapchat, TikTok, and Instagram, to name a few.
Moms need to know that predators regularly scan social profiles to identify vulnerable kids, use DM and chat features to reach out to them, and then use grooming tactics to lure them into lude acts online—or even to move the activity offline into in-person contact. In addition, moms need to know that kids are being exposed to explicit material online far more frequently than they could imagine—more than half (56%) of children between ages 11 and 16 have seen inappropriate content such as:
· Child sex abuse materials
· Swearing and other profanity
· Sites that encourage crime, racism, terrorism, eating disorders, and even suicide
· Depictions of cruelty toward animals or humans
· Unmoderated chat rooms with explicit conversations
The bottom line is that our children deserve better. While approximately 42% of kids age 16 and under have seen online porn, one in 16 have been exposed to hardcore pornography—and one in 25 have sent graphic photos of themselves online. These statistics are shocking, and they point toward disturbing online trends. Protecting children is no longer only about locking all the bad guys out of your home. Now it’s also about not letting predators infiltrate your home through your child’s digital space.
As such, The KIDS TOO Movement was recently activated to help parents—moms, especially—join forces to protect our society’s children from these digital dangers. Since children are now becoming active online at younger ages, they will not yet have developed the social skills necessary to suspect predatory behavior. They are much more likely to fall for ruses that trick the user into clicking on something explicit.
As part of the movement, KIDS TOO developed a guide to help parents understand how predators use different social media platforms. It provides information about how large social media sites, such as YouTube and Instagram, for example, can be employed by predators to reach children. Knowing how these platforms can be misused empowers parents to better understand the most popular platforms and the common red flags of predators. The guide also offers tips to help parents better monitor their children’s online activities.
In addition to educating parents about the dangers associated with large social media platforms, the KIDS TOO guide also provides information specifically geared toward protecting younger children. Parents will learn how predators can use online games such as Roblox and Minecraft to reach even the very youngest of children. This guide makes it easy for parents to identify what platforms their children use and to understand how their children might be vulnerable to online predators on each platform.
Another resource moms can turn to for practical guidance is P.A.X.A. Pointers, produced by the nonprofit organization Parents Against Child Sex Abuse. Its parent-focused curriculum is designed to address foundational information about predatory behavior in scenarios where there is easy access to a child. These scenarios include real-world situations the average child may experience, such as:
· Staying with a babysitter
· Going on a playdate
· Going to a sleepover
· Being at school
· Being online and using electronic devices
The end goal of these resources is to increase awareness of situational vulnerabilities and help parents understand how to spot potential dangers.
When moms tap into these resources to become more informed and aware of online dangers, the more focused they can be on taking the necessary actions to keep their kids safe—without making it scary for the kids or taking away the fun of childhood. In addition, moms can use this knowledge as an opportunity to connect with other moms, comparing notes about what they’re hearing, seeing, and doing about keeping their kids safe when online and/or using apps on devices.
Following are some suggested action steps moms can use to get the ball rolling toward addressing online safety concerns:
· Talk to your children about online/on-device safety. If your children are old enough to be online, they need to understand the risks as well as the benefits of the internet and be prepared for what they may encounter. While you don’t have to go into graphic detail about how predators use the internet, you can explain potential threats, such as grooming strategies, so your children can alert you if they encounter anything suspicious. It’s also important to educate your kids how to use “Block and Report,” empowering them to quickly disengage from predatory activity.
· Install and use parental control apps. Monitoring children’s online activity can be a challenge, as today’s parents are busier than ever. Parental control apps, however, can filter through all content and only alert parents to potentially troubling activity. The apps can also block children from specific websites.
· Disable the chat feature in apps and platforms. So much of the predatory behavior that children face comes from unmonitored chat rooms. Disabling this feature ensures that your children won’t be communicating with anyone while using an app or platform.
· Set limits for online use. In addition to limiting the people your children can interact with online, you should also limit the time they spend online. This measure doesn’t automatically ensure they won’t be exposed to predators, but it does help you monitor how they are using certain online platforms.
· Put electronics away at bedtime. You cannot monitor your children’s internet usage if their devices are with them in their beds and you are asleep in yours. Furthermore, statistics show that more predatory behavior occurs after 8pm than earlier in the day. Thus, putting phones and devices away at that time (or before bedtime) can decrease the odds that your child will encounter a predator.
As a mom, if you discover that your child (or any child you know) is interacting with a potential digital predator, you should use the reporting features available on the CyberTipline (managed by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children). There are hundreds of thousands of registered predators near and far, and certainly many more who are not yet on anyone’s radar. The KIDS TOO Movement seeks to increase awareness of this growing problem as well as provide educational information and helpful resources so moms can work together to protect all of our children from the dangers online.