Historically, in our quiet suburban neighborhoods, the summer season would arrive and people would prepare for outdoor barbecues, swimming, fishing, and laughter. Children would take advantage of more freedom to enjoy outdoor adventures in the neighborhood and beyond, especially locally, where we have rivers, ponds, groves, etc. Amidst this excitement, however, parents have always had to be aware of their children’s safety.
Young people are outside less and less wIth the rise of technology in our lives and culture. Parents have to be concerned far more than ever about not only who is in the neighborhood, but who is influencing your children on devices they may interact with daily, whether it’s their phone, ipad, online games, or the TV.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), globally, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 13 boys worldwide experience child sexual abuse before the age of 18. However, these figures might not capture the full extent of the problem due to underreporting.
Studies indicate that the majority of child sexual abuse cases involve perpetrators who are known to the child and the family. These individuals can include family members, acquaintances, roommates, or individuals in positions of authority or trust.
Child Protective Services finds evidence every 9 minutes; 93% of victims know the perpetrator. However, it's important to note that these reports encompass a broad range of online safety concerns, including images and videos, and may not solely represent interactions with predators.
According to groups like the National Children’s Alliance: Nationwide Child Abuse Statistics, 1 in 3 children to 1 in 5 children are solicited and/or sexually exploited while on the Internet before the age of 18.
What can parents do to protect their children?
Monitor their internet apps and activities. Limit their “screen time.” Encourage outside activities. Here are some helpful tips in general, and then specific apps for parents to watch for that minors can be exploited through by strangers.
Helpful general protective practices
Establish open communication:
1. Open and honest communication is key to ensuring children's safety. Encourage kids to share their thoughts, feelings, and experiences without judgment, assuring them of your love and support, whether you agree or disagree.
Educate about boundaries:
2. Teaching children about personal boundaries empowers them to recognize inappropriate behavior. Parents can discuss various scenarios, emphasizing the importance of saying "no" and reporting any uncomfortable encounters immediately. Teach how manipulative and dangerous secrets can be, not only from strangers, but people close to them as well.
Develop strong relationships:
3. Parents can actively build relationships with their children, spending quality time together, and nurturing bonds of trust. This support system makes children more comfortable discussing their daily activities and concerns.
Foster online safety:
4. In today's digital era, the internet is a major breeding ground for predators. Parents need to be educated and educate their children about online safety, use privacy settings, and warn of the dangers of sharing personal information, and the importance of reporting suspicious online behavior.
Encourage buddy system and stranger danger:
5. Implement a neighborhood buddy system, encouraging children to move around in pairs or groups. This way, they watch out for one another, reducing the chances of falling victim to potential predators. Also, teaching about stranger danger is crucial. Teaching kids to be cautious around unfamiliar individuals and strangers who may seem friendly, but it is essential to maintain a safe distance.
6. Recognize the power of intuition. Encourage children to trust their instincts and to immediately seek help or move away from any situation that feels uncomfortable, even if it seems harmless on the surface.
Establish check-in routine:
7. To stay connected throughout the day, parents can establish check-in routines. Children should inform of their whereabouts periodically, ensuring peace of mind and allowing for swift action if necessary.
Be an advocate:
8. Lastly, the parents empower their children by teaching them that they are their own best advocates. Encourage them to speak up, seek help from trusted adults, and report any suspicious activity promptly. By doing so, children become active participants in their own safety.
Dangerous apps that parents should be aware of:
It is important to be aware of certain apps that can pose potential risks to children and teenagers. Here are examples of apps that parents should be cautious about:
Whisper is an anonymous social networking app that allows users to share their secrets, thoughts, and confessions with strangers. While it may seem harmless, the anonymous nature of the app can lead to cyberbullying, inappropriate content, and potential interactions with predators.
TikTok is a popular video-sharing app where users can create and share short videos. While it offers creative outlets and entertainment, parents should be aware of potential risks such as cyberbullying, exposure to inappropriate content, and the possibility of private messages or interactions with strangers.
Snapchat is known for its disappearing messages and multimedia features. While it may seem appealing, the temporary nature of the content can lead to risky behaviors such as sending inappropriate photos or messages. Moreover, the app has a feature called Snap Map, which allows users to share their location with friends, but it can also expose their whereabouts to potential predators.
Kik Messenger is an instant messaging app that allows users to send messages, photos, and videos. It's popular among teenagers due to its anonymity and the ability to join public group chats. Unfortunately, this app has been associated with cases of online predators targeting young users, as it can be difficult to trace messages back to their source.
Grindr is a dating and social networking app primarily targeted towards gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals. It's important for parents to be aware that this app is intended for adults and can potentially expose underage users to explicit content, inappropriate conversations, and interactions with adults.
Calculator Apps (Vault Apps):
Some calculator apps serve as a cover for hidden content and files. These apps often have a functioning calculator interface but can also act as secret vaults for storing photos, videos, or documents that may be inappropriate or sensitive. Examples of such apps include Secret Calculator, Photo Vault, or KeepSafe. It's important for parents to be vigilant and monitor the apps installed on their children's devices.
Omegle is a chat website and app that pairs users randomly in one-on-one chat sessions. This app poses significant risks as it connects individuals with complete strangers, and there is a high potential for encountering explicit content, cyberbullying, or grooming by predators.
Instagram is a popular social media platform where users can share photos and videos. While it can be a fun way to connect with friends, it's important for parents to be aware of potential cyberbullying, exposure to inappropriate content, and the pressure to maintain a certain image or appearance.
WhatsApp is a messaging app that allows users to send text messages, make voice and video calls, and share media. It's important for parents to monitor the contacts and groups their children interact with, as there have been instances of cyberbullying and sharing of explicit content on the platform.
Discord is a communication platform primarily used by gamers, but it has gained popularity among teenagers for general chatting as well. Parents should be cautious as it can expose users to inappropriate content, cyberbullying, and potentially harmful interactions with strangers.
Formerly known as Yellow, Yubo is a social networking app that allows users to make new friends by swiping right or left, similar to dating apps. It's important for parents to be aware that this app can facilitate interactions with strangers, potentially leading to unsafe encounters or exposure to explicit content.
LiveMe is a live streaming app where users can broadcast themselves to a global audience. While it may seem harmless, the app can expose children and teenagers to inappropriate content and interactions, as well as privacy concerns if personal information is shared.
Bigo Live is another live streaming app that allows users to stream their activities and interact with viewers. Parents should be cautious as this app can expose users to explicit content, cyberbullying, and potential interactions with strangers.
MeetMe is a social networking app that facilitates meeting new people in a location-based manner. However, it has been associated with risks such as cyberbullying, sharing of explicit content, and the potential for meeting strangers in real life.
Tinder is a dating app designed for adults, but underage users may still attempt to use it. It's important for parents to be aware of the potential risks associated with the app, including interactions with adults, exposure to explicit content, and potential exploitation.
Likee is a video creation and sharing app that allows users to create short videos with various effects and filters. Parents should be aware of potential risks such as cyberbullying, exposure to inappropriate content, and the possibility of interacting with strangers.
Ask.fm is a social networking app where users can ask and answer questions. It can be a breeding ground for cyberbullying, as users can ask questions anonymously, leading to hurtful or harmful interactions.
Parents shouldn’t be intimidated to regularly monitor and communicate with their children about potentially dangerous apps. Educating about risks, setting guidelines, and fostering open dialogue will help ensure their online safety which is every parent’s responsibility.
By implementing these tips and fostering a culture of vigilance and open communication, we can protect our little ones and encourage a world where they can grow, explore, and flourish safely.