Heart to Heart with Adele: Online predators and your kids!
Our family is cooped up in quarantine due to the Covid-19 pandemic. While the world is in disarray and frantically trying to stop the spread of the virus, my husband and I are barely coping with our three crazy-making kids, at home. We are also frantically trying to keep the children from bouncing off the walls and driving us, and each other bananas. We have thought about sending them to their rooms for a few hours with their laptops, just to get some peace and give us all a break. What do you think of that strategy?
Newly Recruited Zookeepers
Dear Newly Recruited Zookeepers,
Welcome to the club! Due to the coronavirus pandemic, leaders are requesting families everywhere to stay at home and stop the spread of the virus. The lockdown, however, is creating family issues and experiences that most of us are ill prepared for. All this togetherness, 24/7, in small quarters, with little opportunity to go outside and get away from each other with other activities, is requiring parents to be creative thinkers about how their children can spend time productively, and get a break from each other.
Your idea, to have the children spend a few hours every day in their rooms using technology is a good one. Most children enjoy spending time on their devices, so when well used, the computer can be an amazing source of entertainment and education. That being said, be aware that the positives of alone time with the computer and the ability to access the Internet, is not without its problems. I will talk about a major problem, and list a few suggestions for you as parents about how to protect your children.
Sexual exploitation of children is rampant around the world and sexual predators have found an amazing source of children online, to draw into prostitution, to recruit for the creation of pornography or to lure into trafficking as sex slaves. Online websites are the vast, turbulent, uncharted oceans where these evil self-centered criminals cast their nets, for vulnerable children and adolescents whom they can use in the sex trade. It is a multi-billion-dollar worldwide business in which sick sellers and sick buyers, exploit for self-interests of profit or pleasure, the images, the companionship, and the bodies of children, both boys and girls, some only babies. They use and abuse the children, physically and psychologically, damaging them for life, and sometimes ending their lives completely, when they are no longer any use to them.
According to an article entitled “How to protect your children from online predators using parental controls,” (Kid Guard, October 11, 2017) one in three Internet users were children, as of 2015. That is roughly 1,066,666,666 youngsters who are exposed to abuse online from a predator, cyber bullying from peers and unsuitable adult content such as pornography. The article says that one in seven users experienced unwanted sexual solicitations and that one in 25 youths received an invitation from a predator to meet in real life. Restrictions on Internet access, would have saved 4,266,666 children from predatorial abuse. Check out their website (kidguard.com) and other excellent websites on the subject, for all kinds of information that will help educate you, the parents.
Covid-19 is providing new opportunities for the sexual exploitation of children business. More children and adolescents will be filling their time accessing the Internet. Many of them will be unsupervised in their use of the Internet, even when they are at home with their parents. Stress and an economic downturn may drive the industry to increase recruitment. Ottawa Police have a special unit of several staff who work together combatting the rampant trafficking criminal element in Ottawa and area, which is surprising or even unknown, to many adults living right here in town.
The National Coalition on Sexual Exploitation works hard around the world to fight this kind of abuse perpetrated on children. Dawn Hawkins, Executive Director of NCOSE, in statements to the press on March 25, 2020, said “Online child sex abuse material has increased exponentially in recent years. More children are being targeted and groomed by predators via social media Apps like Teen Vogue and Snapshot…. (which) must be held socially accountable for promoting trends that put people at risk of exploitation…. Research shows that sexting is often linked to off-line sexual coercion leaving teens inherently vulnerable.” The promotion of such ideas to young impressionable teenagers is not harmless fun, she thinks, but leads to sexual extortion, sex abuse and trafficking.
Patricia Truman, President and CEO of NCOSE says, “Children are often exposed to hard-core pornography before puberty and groomed for sexual abuse and sex trafficking on Apps that claim to be safe and age-appropriate.” Some Apps are incorrectly self-rated, dishonest and deceptive to parents. She advocates for independent raters and parental controls in order to avoid online grooming, sex trafficking, recruitment for pornography and sex exploitation. Melissa McKay, child advocate with NCOSE confirms that “Kids are targeted by predators, groomed for sexual abuse and sex trafficking, on platforms like Instagram, Snapshot and Twitter.”
So, Newly Recruited Zookeepers, here are three important ways to protect your kids:
- Diligently check out yourself, what sites your children want to access. Check their browsing history daily at the end of the day no matter how they might protest. This deters your children from visiting dangerous but attractive sites, and ensures decent control in your home, of the sites that predators may frequent, for procurement of children.
- Create an Online Persona for your child, that is totally different from their real characteristics. For example, if they are female, make them male, if 14 make them 16 and if in Ottawa, make their city Calgary. Choose a handle that is not suggestive, and post no photos. Make sure they describe themselves as really close to their parents, with amazingly open communications, and a daily practice of sharing everything with them! These strategies ensure the child is unable to be identified. As well, any predator who knows the child will tell his parents everything, soon realizes that he/she will not be very easily enticed into a feigned warm and intimate personal and exploitive relationship with him/her. The bait will simply not catch the emotionally and needy kind of youngster that is commonly preyed upon, so the hunter moves on to better fishing holes.
- Talk openly and at length to your children about the increasing presence of sexual predators online, especially on gaming sites, in chat rooms and on Face Book. Instruct them to reveal no personal information to any stranger or anyone they do not know personally. Ensure they understand the necessity of reporting any request or suggestion to behave or act in a manner that doesn’t seem or feel right, to their parents. They should be aware that predators use flattery, that the contact may not be who he/she says he/she is, and that they must never arrange to meet anyone they meet online. Educated, well informed kids, who are extremely well versed on the subject of sexual exploitation of children and adolescents are much less likely to fall victim to this heinous abuse of our young. Do not shy away from these kinds of discussions parents, because you yourself are uncomfortable with the issue or have not experienced it personally. Many children have become victims because their parents put their heads in the sand and wore blinders created out of ignorance and lack of information themselves. Make it your business to find out all you can about sexual exploitation of children today, and use what you learn to protect your beloved children from ever becoming victims.
So, Newly Recruited Zookeepers, I trust you are better prepared for yet another day with your zoo creatures. Be sure to tell them everyday that you set rules for them to guide them and to protect them. Tell them you do it because you love them. Because that is what loving, top notch Olympian parents do!
I'm looking forward to your questions! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and please put Heart to Heart in the subject line. Note that all columns will remain anonymous.