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

Programs to use and top tips for parents

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Talk to your child—now!

Don’t wait until you think there’s a problem to talk about cyber-predators. Fran Marton, a Nyack, New York-based licensed clinical social worker, notes that positive conversations often take place while a parent and child are engaged in another activity—e.g., cooking, taking a walk or drive—since being distracted in an activity creates a more laid-back atmosphere, as opposed to a stressful “we need to have a talk” tone, for natural communication. 

If there is a problem, and your child tells you about worrisome-sounding online activity, all of the experts we spoke to advise keeping a calm attitude. “The basis for dealing with the problem lies in the ability of parents and children to communicate, to keep that line open. Create such an atmosphere that when something comes up, the child can go to the parent without feeling blamed or ashamed, without fear of being admonished,” Marton says. Children “can sense your own discomfort. The parent gets anxious and the child closes up, shuts down. Half of parenting is acting; pretend you’re not upset.”

In her workshop, Brownbill-Vega poses hypothetical situations to students: For instance, she’ll ask, “Would you respond if a stranger approached you as you walked down the street?” In that case, she says, “Your guard would go up, but people let their guard down at home. It’s easy to feel safe at home talking to a stranger and giving too much information.” The bottom line? “If you wouldn’t do it in real life, don’t do it in your tech life.”  



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