As our world becomes more dependent on technology and the web, especially now with distance learning due to COVID-19, children are increasingly at risk of befriending strangers online.
Educators often act as law enforcement’s eyes and ears, noticing some of the signs that a student is being abused at home or sexually exploited by a trafficker.
Just because kids are not physically in school during this COVID-19 crisis, does not mean they aren’t at risk of being recruited into the dangerous world of human trafficking.
Now that students are all spending more time online, they are a captive audience for would-be traffickers making contact on social media, which means we have to expand our efforts to educate them to prevent them from falling victim to predators.
Our concern is that students are more susceptible than ever to sexual exploitation because teachers and school staff aren’t able to make the same observations as they would in person.
In fact, reports of technology-based exploitation have tripled to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is hard to communicate with kids on sex/abuse topics but it is worth the effort to educate and protect kids.
Signs are not always present but they often are if parents/guardians know what to look for.
What are Potential signs that your child may not be safe online?
These red flags are common with some adolescents that should be taken seriously:
- Their teenager or child may be acting secretive of their online activities
- Hiding what is on their computer screens
- Out of sight or behind a closed door when online
- Vague talk of making new friends with little to no details
- Agitated behavior when answering their phone or needing to take calls in private
- Sneaking out of the house and/or untruthful about who with/where
- Dressing/wearing make-up to look older
- They get home late
- Unexplained expensive gifts/money/clothes
What can parents/guardians do to protect children online?
Parents/guardians are also on the frontlines when it comes to all forms of child abuse and exploitation, whether online or in person – children and adolescents often do not feel vulnerable or understand and appreciate what risks they may face form online or in person victimization.
Parents must communicate with children and teach them trust but at the same time know what their children are doing online and who they are communicating both online and in person.
FBI Recommendations to Parents:
- Review and approve games and apps before they are downloaded.
- Make sure privacy settings are set to the strictest level possible for social media, online gaming systems, phones and other devices.
- Monitor your child’s use of the internet and keep computers in a non-private room.
- Explain to your child that images posted online most likely will remain on the internet permanently.
- Teach your child about personal boundaries and awareness of their surroundings.
- Encourage open child-parent communication around internet safety.
For more information and tips visit SanDiegoDA.com.