What would you do if you found out your child was talking to strangers online? In today’s world, keeping your kids safe online is more important than ever, as internet child predators are disturbingly on the rise. Kids have access to so many things on the internet, and that means predators can find your kids online. Even with parental locks and security walls many websites put in place, it can be challenging to keep your kids safe online.
Carly Yoost, CEO and founder of the Child Rescue Coalition (CRC), came on The Dr. Oz Show on Nov. 22, 2019 to discuss this very issue. Yoost says parents often don't realize what can put their kids at risk online, and while it’s nearly impossible to keep them off the internet completely, there are effective methods you can use to educate and protect them from the dangers of online child predators and other harmful internet scenarios.
Avoid Certain Hashtags
Adding hashtags to family photos could actually put your kids in danger. According to the CRC, by the time kids are just 5 years old, parents have, on average, posted 1,500 photos or videos of their kids to social media. What’s even more dangerous is parents sharing photos using hashtags that child predators specifically look for. Hashtags like #pottytraining and #bathtime may seem innocent enough to you, but according to the CRC, searching these are common ways that predators look for and curate photos of children.
Yoost says that while it’s okay to post photos on private accounts, as soon as you add a hashtag, it can make a specific post public. Hashtags make your posts visible to everyone, which can put your kids at the potential risk of being seen by a child predator. Rule of thumb: If you don’t want strangers looking at it, don’t post it — especially not with a hashtag.
Keep Your Accounts (& Your Location) Private
According to the CRC, keeping your accounts and your kids’ accounts private is key in the fight against online child predators. Activating your privacy settings is easy; simply review the “settings” menu on your social media accounts and switch everything into a private mode.
Yoost also recommends refraining from sharing your kids’ school locations or general whereabouts on social media, so predators cannot identify the location. This no-post list should also include logos, such as school or club logos on shirts, which can also indicate where your child will be at a certain time. While this may sound extreme, Yoost says it’s necessary for ensuring the privacy and safety of your children.
Don’t Allow Devices in Your Children’s Bedrooms or Bathrooms
Twenty years ago, kids used to have to stare at the ceiling when they couldn’t fall asleep — now, they turn to the internet. The CRC suggests that devices such as tablets, cell phones, and laptops should be off limits in children’s bedrooms and bathrooms. All devices should stay in the kitchen/living area, where they can be used with supervision.
Keeping technology out of bedrooms and bathrooms is necessary; these are private places and you never know what kinds of photos your kids are taking or what they’re saying to strangers online. According to the CRC, tweens and teens are less likely to enter chat rooms in video games or engage with people online they don’t know if they have supervision. It’s best to keep these devices out of their bedrooms until they are at an age when you can trust them to make informed decisions. So what is that recommended age? Well, experts say that’s up to your discretion as a parent. You know your kids better than anyone, and keeping a consistent, open dialogue about what they’re doing online can help you build that trust..
Check Your Kids’ Devices (With Caution)
The CRC says it's perfectly acceptable to routinely check your children's devices, including text messages. Get to know their lingo and acronyms, so you can notice any suspicious activity. Parents, you know the meaning of LOL and BRB, but there are some other acronyms that predators and teens alike could be using. According to the CRC, “PIR” stands for “parent in room,” and “GNOC” means “get naked on camera.”
These acronyms may seem obvious to stay away from, but how will your kids know that using them can be dangerous unless you tell them? The best way to help your kids avoid engaging with child predators is to keep them informed and guide them to shut down a conversation if these terms come up. Common Sense Media, an organization dedicated to providing expert reviews on tech and media for kids, says the best way to approach the topic of checking your kids’ phones is by being honest with them and explaining that you’re only doing it to make sure they’re being safe — not because you don’t trust them.
Educate Yourself & Your Kids
Although it’s nearly impossible to monitor every little thing your kids do online, you should teach them what to look out for. The Goodwill Community Foundation (GCF), an international organization committed to positively serving local communities through education and life enrichment opportunities, says it’s important to educate your kids about online child predators and other internet dangers by setting guidelines with your kids about what websites are and are not okay to visit.
If you’re wondering where to start, GCF recommends for parents to always monitor their kids’ access to chat rooms, including online or video games with chat features. Chat rooms are generally not monitored by administrators and therefore can easily be used by predators to start communicating with your kids.GCF also says it’s important to teach kids from a very young age to keep pictures of themselves and personal information (like addresses or credit card numbers) off the internet completely.
Finally, GCF notes how important it is to let your kids know that they can feel comfortable coming to you if they ever feel unsafe or uncomfortable online. Psychology Today recommends one effective way to do this by scheduling phone-free time with your kids. This will allow more opportunities for them to be vulnerable with you without the distraction of a phone.
The internet is a scary place. By educating your kids and monitoring their internet use with these tips, you can put your best foot forward to ensure that you’re doing everything you can to protect their online presence.