Every time I read those horrible stories about online predators and their victims, I immediately start asking myself questions like: “What can I as a parent do to protect my children?” You never know what kind of danger your kids can come across but there are ways of preventing some of them. The first thing on your list should be having an open conversation with them. You children have to understand the risks of disclosing their personal information. The more careful they are with their digital footprint the better.
Placing the computer in the living room instead of their bedroom is also a good idea. In that way, children will be more cautious about the websites they visit and people they chat with online. I highly recommend discussing the time for the device use with them. You can shut the internet off after, say, 9 o’clock in the evening. These are easy things to implement in your household but you will be surprised by how effective they are. Here’s what else you can do.
Pay close attention to the apps your children install. There are thousands of apps that seem to be quite innocent but have hidden functions. Downloading a simple calculator app may result in messaging with a stranger. You might not have enough time or efforts to check every little thing your kids do online and you probably should not. Again, having an honest conversation with them is the key. Make it clear to them that having a conversation with a stranger even as a joke might be dangerous.
The possibility of messaging a stranger secretly increases the risk of them getting into a predator’s trap. Keep in mind that an app that supports communication with strangers and has no moderation or age verification allows the interaction between your children and adult strangers.
Start with having a simple dialog with your children. Learn what kind of multiplayer games they like and why. Ask them if they chat with other players and what experience they’ve had. This conversation should be informative for both sides so make sure to discuss the option of someone your kids don’t know trying to chat with them while gaming. Let them describe their actions and point out what they can do to protect themselves from online predators.
Make sure the games your children play have inbuilt algorithms that block inappropriate comments and chat. Do not expect those settings to be ideal but they are of great help.
The most important primary step you should take is to check if your kids’ social media profiles are marked private. If no, ask them to do so. An open searchable user profile is the easiest way for a predator to find a potential victim. Make it clear to your kids that even a simple information about the school they attend and a sport they play makes them easier for a predator to approach. Writing posts about negative emotional experiences is also very dangerous. Online abusers often use this information to show their support and gain kids’ trust. Your goal is to create the kind of environment where your children would feel safe to share their problems with you. If they use online chat rooms and social media to find support there, they can easily get into trouble.