Abusive Situations and the Internet
We discussed some strategies for avoiding one-adult/one child situations in the previous article, but in this segment we are going to focus on addressing issues pertaining to internet use and how that can play into abusive situations.
Child predators are not stupid. They are never going to show up on your doorstep asking to take your child out for unsupervised ice-cream. They are going to work hard to earn your child’s trust and friendship, circumventing interaction with you if at all possible. And one of the easiest ways to do that is online.
The internet allows for anonymity, which is a child molester’s best friend. Most children aren’t going to welcome the attentions of an older man or woman, but will quickly divulge all manner of personal and identifying information to a peer. Many child abusers and paedophiles present themselves as young and trendy and good looking while online. They hide behind pictures, use false names and shave decades off their ages.
For this reason it is critical to remember that seeing is NOT believing when you are online. And we cannot stress enough the importance of explaining this to your kids. Because they are not mature enough to exercise caution in all situations, crave acceptance from their peers more than they will admit, and are insatiably curious, they are likely to fall prey to someone’s deception at some point if they are not carefully guided.
As an adult internet user, we would caution honesty in all your online dealings – should anyone discover that you use a false name online or alter your age to appear younger, you open yourself to the possibility of others assuming that you have something to hide. This can lead to incorrect assumptions about your motives, and even false accusations against you.
Talking regularly to your children about internet safety, and keeping that discussion open so that they will feel free to discuss with you any odd or out-of-place encounters they have online, will go a long way toward reducing their interaction with predators. Answer their questions as honestly as possible about what and why – they need to know what they are up against, and you will not always be there, hanging over their shoulder to protect them.
Monitor your children’s online activities as well. You don’t have to stand and watch the screen (which they wouldn’t appreciate anyway), but let them know that while they are still legally minors, it is your job to make sure that they are safe.
This does not mean snooping and spying, which tells them that you don’t trust them, but it does mean some oversight and random checks. Be sure that they understand that you want to respect their privacy, but also want to make sure that they are safe. Discuss ways to achieve that goal that works comfortably for both of you and stick to it. Conversely, we would advise that you not befriend any minors online, regardless of their apparent maturity – should their parents come across evidence of your online dialogue, however harmless, they could make assumptions about your intentions and possibly even make false allegations against you.
Also, teach your kids about basic internet etiquette. Things like “if you wouldn’t do it face to face, then don’t do it online”, and “everything that you say and do online is out there forever, so make sure that you’re careful because it may come back to haunt you. And remember – apply this advice to your own internet use as well!