It’s no secret that the modern mom is far more worried about the safety of her children than moms in the past. And it stands to reason that this worry is justified since there are so many more concerns. Modern parents worry they don’t spend enough time with their children or their needs aren’t met.
They worry about finances and school success. They may also worry about self-esteem, bullying, and substance abuse. And finally, they worry about safety – both physically and virtually.
Many mothers are very protective of their children. And when it comes to their physical safety, mothers often address safe practices with their children, such as:
- Not talking to strangers
- Requesting a safe word from an unrecognized adult who claims they are picking the child up
- Contacting police or asking for help if they feel threatened
The list goes on and on, but while mothers find it easy to discuss what to do in the face of a physical threat, many mothers are uncertain about identifying and responding to a virtual threat. Moms may not know that one of the biggest security threats to their child may actually be online and on social media, or they may underestimate the severity of this threat.
In reality, most parents are not confident that they know the appropriate amount of screen time and are concerned that their child may have too much screen time. And yet, we see the widespread use of YouTube among children, which an average of 80% of children under 11 use to watch videos.
And exposure to social media platforms can introduce additional threats to children. The circulation of inappropriate materials online is pervasive among children on well-known platforms like YouTube, Facebook, Snapchat, TikTok, and Instagram.
These materials and exposure are even occurring on games directed toward younger children, such as Minecraft and Roblox. And the reality is that predators are reaching the nation’s children. There were more than 2.7 million reports of inappropriate incidents reported to the CyberTipline during the pandemic alone.
Additionally, approximately 56% of children between 11 and 16 have seen explicit materials online, such as pornographic material, material encouraging racism, sexism, crime, terrorism, eating disorders, suicide, cruelty toward animals or humans, and unmoderated chatrooms with explicit conversations. It is clear that digital devices and social media platforms allow predators to reach young children.
Tania Haigh, Founder of the KIDS TOO movement, encapsulates this threat when she states, “The biggest misperception moms have is that people online are not threats. Many believe that because the child may be physically safe while using a device like an iPhone or iPad, he or she is safe from a predator.
The reality is that predators have always used technological advancements to maintain secrecy about their child exploitation. Now social media has given predators more ways to engage with our kids directly and publicly. Having this type of access means predators can begin to coerce kids to share personal information that may lead to accessing them in person, too.”
As you can see, with so much dangerous digital information targeting our children, it’s no wonder parents find it challenging to parent and care for their children. But here are some helpful solutions from Tania Haigh that can make a difference.
- Talk to your kids about internet safety. If the kids are old enough to be online, they need to be prepared for it. While moms don’t have to go into graphic details about how predators use the internet, they can explain potential threats, such as grooming strategies, so their kids can alert mom if they encounter anything suspicious. It’s crucial to clearly explain online threats to your children and teach them internet safety skills.
- Disable the chat feature in apps and platforms. So much of the predatory behavior that children face now comes from unmonitored chat rooms. Disabling this feature ensures that children won’t communicate with anyone while using the apps or platforms moms wish to control.
- Set limits for online use. Moms can limit the people their kids can interact with and the time they spend online. While this doesn’t automatically ensure the kids won’t be exposed to predators, it does help moms monitor how they are using online platforms. In addition, it’s a fact that more predatory behavior occurs after 8 PM than earlier in the day. Therefore, putting the kids’ phones and devices away after that time (or before their bedtime) can further decrease a child’s odds of encountering a predator. Also, it goes without saying, that moms cannot monitor their usage if the device is with them in bed and moms are asleep in theirs.
There are hundreds of thousands of predators in this country – and many of them target children. However, resources such as the KIDS TOO Movement and other digital safety resources can give parents a leg up on predators. These resources help parents understand how predators use different digital applications to begin to implement meaningful measures to protect their children.
And while the thought of your child falling victim to an online child predator is terrifying, it’s up to the parent to protect their child. The bottom line is that moms have the power to shut it down! If mom suspects that an interaction is suspicious, there are several actions she can take to make a difference.
First, a mom should document the activity by taking screenshots, as this will come in handy when reporting it to the authorities. Second, use every possible feature specific to the platform to block the user and report the misconduct. Third, don’t hesitate to report it to the local police department, the FBI field office, and the CyberTipline (1-800-843-5678).
It’s a scary world out there, and moms have plenty of things to worry about for their children. But the ‘scary’ isn’t just ‘out there.’ Digital connectivity can also make interactions your child has in the home scary if they are talking to the wrong people. These tips can help make your child safer in the digital world.