Online Predators: What Every Parent Should Know

Sexual predators do exist and can target both boys and girls of all ages. With the anonymity of the Internet working to their advantage, predators can be whomever they want.


Let’s start by answering the question, what is an Internet or online predator?

The standard online predator’s definition is: any person, male or female, using the Internet for the express purpose of targeting a minor to perform non-consent sex acts. They work through anonymity and manipulation. They use emotional vulnerability and the child’s needs to have their emotional point of view validated. The predator mentality is always studying this behavior and is watching and more importantly stalking their next victim.

Predators typically target children with obvious vulnerabilities:

  • Unpopular
  • Feel unloved
  • Seeking attention and friendship
  • Low self-esteem and lack of confidence
  • Isolated from peers
  • Spend time alone
  • Often unsupervised
  • Experiencing family problems

Predators use these issues to befriend the victim and empathize with them while building a “fake” friendship and sense of trust. Social Media provides a means of escape and thus becomes the predominate method for predators to infiltrate an adolescent mind.

Predators can easily find information about potential victims thanks to the internet, social media, and the naivety of children. User profiles can be searched through instant messaging, chat rooms, and video hosting sites such as YouTube. Even simple statements listed on a profile such as school attended, sports played, or pictures in front of a home or car can allow predators to target young people.

In a process known as Predator Grooming, a predator targets a child and engages him or her for the purpose of sexual activity. It involves motivation and intent to sexually exploit the child. It starts with searching chat rooms for child oriented screen names. Once a predator finds a target they will strike up a conversation. Once the victim shows interest it doesn’t take long for the predator to build them up, become their friend, and gain their trust.

What can Parents do to Protect their Children?

Look for potential warning signs from your child, adolescent, or teenager:

  • Spending a lot of time online or on a device
  • Receiving texts, phone calls, or emails from people you don’t know
  • Withdraws from normal activities
  • Closes computer screen or certain apps when you approach
  • Uses hidden accounts for email or messaging
  • Increased sense of stress, worry or desperation

Now it’s time to take action. But instead of inspiring fear in our kids, we want to arm them with information. When you talk to your child, tell them there’s a chance someone could approach them online to get personal information, exchange pictures, and/or meet in person, and it might be someone who feels like an online friend. If that happens and someone starts asking for personal information or talking about sexual stuff, it’s time to get help from an adult.

Know what your child is doing online by asking them which apps, games, and other tech they use. If they’re on social media, friend or follow them. Set rules about times and places for device use — for example, banning phones and tablets from bedrooms. Find out how they chat — is it through an app or their phone’s SMS texting? Make rules around who they can chat with — for instance, only people they know in real life.

If your child plays games, use these questions to probe deeper: Do you chat with others while you’re gaming? What’s been your experience so far? What would you do if someone you didn’t know contacted you? Help them set privacy settings to limit the contacts in their games.

Kids should never share a phone number, address, or even last name with someone they’ve never met. Also, sharing sexy pictures or being overtly sexual online leaves an unwanted legacy, with or without creepy adults, so we need to teach kids about being mindful about their digital footprint. Plus, having nude pictures of a minor — even if you are a minor — is against the law and teens can get into legal trouble as a result.

If you do find your child has had an encounter with a predator or potential predator, make sure you gather evidence by taking screenshots and saving all communications. Get as many details as you can and report it to the platform or service your kid is using, block the person, and find the reporting features on other apps and games your kid uses together. Finally, contact the police. Even though it may seem like a one-time thing, or you don’t want to make it a big deal, it’s best to let the authorities know in case the person is a known offender and to prevent them from doing it to other kids.

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