Internet predators are adults who meet kids online intending to sexually exploit them. Of course, the Internet isn’t the only place where your child can run into predators – predators can also exist in their neighborhood, their school, or even in their extended family. Do we need to be more worried about predators your child could meet online than ones they could meet in the real world?
Online vs. Offline Predators
A new study from the University of New Hampshire says that predators who meet their victims online are no more likely to be violent than predators who know their victims in person. Criminally speaking, the study is saying that there’s no significant difference between online and offline predators.
But there is a big difference – how they meet their victims – and that is where parents need to be extra vigilant about the Internet.
Here’s why your child might be more likely to fall victim to a predator online:
- Predators can lie about who they are online. Unlike in the real world, predators can approach children online using a fake profile picture, pretending to be a tween or teen, or pretending to be a different gender. While a pre-teen boy may not be interested in conversing with an adult male, he might accept a friend request from a pretty 14-year-old girl he doesn’t know.
- Predators have private access to kids online. In the real world predators have to worry about being identified or being seen talking alone with a child, but online it’s as easy as anonymously logging into a chat room from the privacy of their own home. Online kids who aren’t monitored by their parents are at special risk for being exploited by an adult they meet on the Internet.
- Predators can get more information about victims online. In the real world it takes time for child predators to learn all about their victims, but social networking profiles give predators all they need to know at a glance. If your child doesn’t have tight security settings on their profile, predators can learn about and use their likes and dislikes to gain their trust.
What Parents Should Talk About
Even though it’s easier for predators to meet kids online, the University of New Hampshire study shows that parents should be talking about all predators with their kids – both online and offline ones.
Kids should tell an adult when any adult-child relationship becomes inappropriate. Adults shouldn’t be confiding age-inappropriate details about their personal life or encouraging secrets or illegal activity, for example.
Online and offline, kids should avoid conversations about sex with strangers or casual acquaintances of any age. Online, they should friend only people they know in real life and never send pictures to a stranger of any age. uKnowKids can alert you if your child makes a friend on Facebook that is 18 or older and can show you any pictures your child might be sending with their mobile phone.
Every parent worries about the dangers of child predators. When talking to your children, remember that kids whose parents are unaware of what they’re doing or who they’re talking to online are at special risk for falling into a “friendship” with a predator.
Tim Woda is a passionate advocate for protecting children from today’s scariest digital dangers – cyberbullying, sexting and online predators. He is the co-founder of uKnow.com, developers of uKnowKids.