Study uncovers solutions that may help kids be less likely to be victimized online
Just mention two words: “Online Predator” to a parent and be prepared for a full-blown panic attack. Few things are more terrifying than envisioning our kids being recruited for sexual relationships by some unseen force. Though we can ever fully protect our kids, one study gives parents critical information that just may help us stop the unthinkable.
The recent study was conducted by the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. The researchers extensively interviewed 3,000 kids 10 to 17 years old who are Internet users as well as 612 federal, state and local law enforcement officials. The data was analyzed uncovering surprising data that every parent needs to know. The study provides insightful information on how we can protect our children. Though no child is one hundred percent safe from online stalking, it appears that some children appear to be – at least from this study– far more at risk.
- Biggest surprise: For the most part it appears online predators target specific children.
- Prime on an online predator’s list: Kids who are more vulnerable. (Reread that last line carefully).
- The most vulnerable youth to online predators are those with lower-self esteem. It appears that predators specifically prey on kids who lack strong identity or have a weaker social network of their own. (Which is what research also shows about offline bullying).
- The predator looks for kids already vulnerable and then entices them by offering a romantic relationship.
7 traits of youth found to be most at risk by an online predator
Here are some of the highlights from the study and a few recommendations as to how we can take a more preventative approach to stopping this horrific crime against our children. Children who are most vulnerable:
- Have past histories of sexual or physical abuse
- Engage in patterns of risky off- or online behavior
- Frequent chatrooms
- Talk online about sex
- Divulge personal information online
- Do not have strong, healthy relationships with their parents
- Are boys who are gay or questioning their sexual orientations
Using those social networks like Facebook or MySpace does not make kids more susceptible to online predators.
What does increase a child’s danger: Frequenting chatrooms, giving out personal information and talking online to unknown people about sex. (I know you’ve heard that over and over again…but if you haven’t reminded your child about that rule, PLEASE put it on your “to do” list for today…and tomorrow..and the next …)
5 important take aways from this research
- Talk, talk, talk to your child about healthy relationships vs. unhealthy relationships. Then talk again. Kids need to understand the difference between the two. [Read: 4 Steps to Thaw a Teen’s Cold Shoulder and Rebuild Your Relationship]
- Watch out for those chatrooms. Tell your child that if you ever walk by that computer and see him cover up that screen, the computer plug will be pulled and he loses the privilege–end of argument. Tips to Keep Kids Safer Online]
- Set up clear rules about how your computer is to be used. Here are a few essentials: Your computer must be in a central place where you can touch it at all times. Your child should never, ever give any personal information including her name, address, phone number, password, school name, birth date, town, etc. [Read: Tips to Keep Kids Safer Online]
- Parents: get savvier and educated about computer safety. Know how to put up filters and blocks and how to know which sites your child has been frequenting. If you don’t know sign up for a course or start doing your own Google searches. Stay one step ahead of your child! [Read: 9 signs of cyberbullying you must look for in kids]
- Nurture your child’s self-esteem and help her develop a strong identity. Watch out if your child is having emotional difficulties. Seek the help of a mental health professional. Don’t wait. Please. [Read:Boosting Kids’ Success Quotients by Building Positive Self-Beliefs]
These are scarier times to be raising kids, but if we stay a bit more computer savvy, set clear rules about that computer, and more involved in our kids lives we can reduce the online predator risk and our parent panic. Perhaps the most important take away: Though there are no guarantees, the more involved you are in your child’s life, the less likely (according to this research) your child will be victimized.
Now go talk to your kid!