What You Can Do to Protect Children from Unwanted Sexual Solicitation Online
Programs to use and top tips for parents
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Children may be contacted by creepers anywhere they have an Internet presence. Though Facebook is in the news a lot, “It’s not where [kids] live” online, according to Jennifer Cronk, a technology learning facilitator in New City, New York, and a former computer teacher in Valhalla. Teens and tweens are more likely to focus on their YouTube accounts, Twitter, Instagram, or chat, photo, or game sites (such as Minecraft). On question-game sites, such as Ask.fm, initially innocuous questions that get increasingly challenging or raunchy with each round can lure kids in. Brownbill-Vega advises parents to instruct their children to “never answer questions that make you uncomfortable; get away from it.” But kids can get pulled into doing things they’re not comfortable with—like the question games—because they don’t want to be a "quitter" or a "bad sport."
Cronk says predators typically set their sights on potential victims who live within 20 miles, though they aren’t necessarily candid about their own location. Kids may be more likely to open up and communicate with someone they believe is in California or Kansas or somewhere far from home, feeling safe because they think there’s no chance of actually meeting. In reality, they could be pouring their hearts out to a predator who is a few miles—or a few blocks—away. “Young people are researching their own feelings, their own sexuality, and they think it’s great to have a distant sounding board,” says Brownbill-Vega. “But you’re giving that person enough information to harm you.”