It’s easy to focus on the physical safety aspects of protecting children from child sexual abuse, but in doing so we shouldn’t lose sight of the increasing dangers in other areas, including the digital world. In a recent article about the world of online exploitation and cyber crime investigations, we’re reminded that perpetrators have a growing list of ways to encounter and contact children online. It’s our responsibility to monitor those channels and teach our kids about the possible dangers.
“There are risks associated with how children are communicating digitally. It really requires that parents be educated about the types of apps that their children are using and who they are communicating with and through what means,” says Cindy McElhinney, director of programs with Darkness to Light. “One of the most important things is that we have conversations with our kids about what can happen when they use a digital device and the consequences of putting certain things out on a digital device. If you put something out there, you have to know that it’s public. Even if you think you’re only sending it to one person, that’s becoming public and permanent. You can’t take it back.”
PUBLIC AND PERMANENT
Understanding public and permanent in the digital world can begin even from a young age. With younger children, keep their personal information off online profiles and talk to them about what information is private and shouldn’t be shared. Talk to pre-teens about topics like sexting and cyberbullying, explaining the potential long-term consequences of sending sexual messages and pictures. Tell children if they hear of this happening or if anyone sends them an inappropriate communication – no matter who – to tell you immediately. Conversations with teens can focus on the dangers and permanence of communication sent digitally in the various apps they use, including on social media and blogs. Explain that applications like Snapchat that claim to delete images and messages still retain them, and that private messages and comments are actually public and can easily be shared.
APPLYING THE 5 STEPS TO DIGITAL SAFETY
Darkness to Light’s 5 Steps to prevent child sexual abuse can also be applied to protecting children from sexual abuse online. Apply these steps to internet and device use to keep your children safe:
STEP 1: LEARN THE FACTS
Learn the access, privacy, and messaging policies of all digital games, social networks, and video games used by your children.
STEP 2: MINIMIZE OPPORTUNITY
Parental controls can help restrict accesses and monitor messaging. Privacy and language filters can also reduce kids’ risk of receiving solicitation.
STEP 3: TALK ABOUT IT
Spend time with children online and talk to them about potential dangers and what appropriate online conduct looks like.
STEP 4: RECOGNIZE THE SIGNS
Stay tuned to changes in behavior – secrecy about computer use, sites visited, or online “friends” should raise warning flags.
STEP 5: REACT RESPONSIBLY
Understand how, when, and where to report suspicious behavior online
To learn more about talking to your kids about digital safety, visit http://www.D2L.org/digitalsafety