What You Can Do to Protect Children from Unwanted Sexual Solicitation Online

Programs to use and top tips for parents

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Setting the trap

Kids are likely to overshare online, posting details from crushes to tantrums to disappointments to celebrations. An online friendship can develop with someone who shows interest in every grief and triumph; is there with empathy, applause, or encouragement; and even loves the exact same bands and teams. An adult predator may spend months or even years working himself thoroughly into a youth’s confidence.

A first move in strengthening the relationship may be something small, like standing up for the child in a discussion or taking the child’s side in a disputed point on a game site, says Cronk. Troubled, lonely, at-risk teens in particular may think they recognize a kindred spirit, and feel they’ve made a true friend. The wily predator will reinforce the notion that he’s the only one who understands the youngster or cares enough to protect him or her.

While teens are often much more tech-savvy than their parents, they don’t have the lifetime of experience to realize that not everyone tells the truth, or is open about their motives and goals. In time, a predator might be able to convince a child to meet or swap photos or videos. Kids are often straightforward and direct, and, in their youthful inexperience, they may think everyone else is, too. In fact, in the vast majority of cases, “creepers” are completely up front about their age, never attempting to deceive the child to gain trust. “Kids will enter into a relationship knowing how old the person is,” Cronk says. “The relationship has built to the point that the kid thinks it’s okay.”



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