Online Predators Part IV: Keeping Your Teen Safe From Predators
Over the last few weeks, we’ve talked about how online predators really behave, what tools they’re using to contact your children, and how you can tell if contact has been made. Today is a subject that’s even more important—what you can do to protect your teen from predators. At its core, this is a simple, four-step process.
Step 1: Educate Your Child
Nothing is going to work unless your child understands what’s going on and supports your efforts to stop predators. This is the most important part of protecting your child, because sooner or later, there’s going to come a point where they have to fend for themselves.
It’s best to have this conversation as soon as they start going online—and make it an ongoing issue as you talk to your teen about what predators are doing, how they can manipulate emotions, and why this is so dangerous for them. As explained in a study by the University of New Hampshire, the simple truth is that many of the crimes committed by online predators—up to and including statutory rape—aren’t thought of as crimes by the people experiencing them… nor do the victims often see themselves as such.
Teens often respond best to the ‘manipulation’ explanation here—they’re looking for genuine relationships, not being taken advantage of, and focusing on how predators lie to them in order to seduce them can offer a resounding pillar of support for your explanation. You can also bring trust into it—tell your child that you accept their desire to form a relationship and just want to be sure they’re safe. As long as your teen believes they have your love and support, chances are they won’t mind you staying involved.
Step 2: Stay Informed
At the same time, you should stay informed about the social networks your child is using and how predators might use those. We already discussed the tools predators use to reach teens, but predators—like teens—are always looking for new ways to slip through the safety net and avoid attracting your attention.
Fortunately, even if they’re using different networks, their basic behaviors remain predictable. As long as you stay on top of how they’re reaching out to teens, you can put a stop to things.
Note: Despite what we hear about 18 being the legal age for many things, 30 states (and the District of Columbia) have 16 as the legal age of consent for sexual relations. In some limited cases, this can extend as far down as 14, which is when many teens get a smartphone. On the other hand, sex is not the only reason online predators do things—and, accordingly, is not the only one you should watch out for.
Step 3: Observe Your Child’s Behavior
Once you’ve talked to your teen and studied up on everything predators are doing, it’s time to observe your child’s behavior. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean simply watching their expressions and hoping you catch on if something seems to be going wrong. Many times, as in the case of Ryan Halligan, teens can seem happy, normal, even confident… until someone pulls the rug straight out from under them and attacks.
This is why it’s so important to observe your child’s behavior and keep tabs on who they’re talking to, what they’re saying, and how it’s making them feel. Most teens will balk at this—they’re sure it won’t happen to them, usually because they trust the person they’re currently dating… and this looks right back around to Step 1 and the importance of educating your child.
At this stage, it’s best to focus on your own relationship. You can agree that you’re probably being overprotective—and as long as you keep your focus on just wanting to be sure your child is safe, there’s a good chance they’ll agree to it and not search for ways of getting around your monitoring.
Step 4: Unplug Their Private Life
There’s one more thing you can do to help keep your teen safe. Most predators look for teens who are online for long, consistent periods of time each day—and often prompt teens to abandon their other activities. Unplugging your child’s private life—not completely, but partially—can help thwart predators on two fronts.
First, teens look for companionship where they currently are. If they’re busy with offline activities, having friends they regularly meet offline will discourage the online-only relationships that predators love.
Second, you can use their online status as a warning sign. When teens recognize that anyone who wants them to give up their activities probably isn’t a good romantic match, they’re far less likely to be taken in by predators—and far more likely to simply pull the plug on the relationship and move on.
That’s all for our series on online predators. If you don’t yet have a way to observe your child’s behavior on their smartphone, get started with a free trial by visiting our homepage. If you haven’t already bookmarked Teenology, do that now and come back soon for our next series, where we’ll be looking at another important matter involving teens, technology, and what you can do to raise a happier, healthier child.