Over the last several decades, technology has become increasingly integral to daily life. People have grown more and more accustomed to—and dependent on—using devices to access information, communicate with others, and control applications, and as a result, all this seemingly essential technology has now permeated the lives of many children.
However, while technology can go a long way in making many lives better, there is a dark side as well—too much exposure, in general, or any exposure to the wrong type of content. Social media use has been particularly contentious, with almost two-thirds of American adults reporting that social media has a negative impact on the country. Despite many parents’ concerns and worries, though, social media use is still very attractive to children; and in spite of age restrictions on using many of these sites, children with access to devices can easily find ways around the restrictions.
While concerns about technology as related to children have been raised for many years, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown just how prevalent the problems truly are. More than 21.7 million cases of inappropriate incidents have been reported to the CyberTipline in the last couple of years.
Online Predators and Social Media
These concerning and dangerous incidents occur regularly on commonly used platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat, TikTok, and Instagram, among others. Additionally, many of the reported incidents expose children to child sexual abuse material, sexism and racism, gambling, swearing and profanity, and sites that encourage terrorism, cruelty, eating disorders, and even suicide. Unmoderated chat rooms also allow predators to engage in explicit conversations with children.
Many tech and social media platforms have tools in place to prevent child predation; however, there will never be sufficient technology or resources to address all online threats. This fact has left many parents—especially moms—wondering what they can do to protect their children from online dangers.
The KIDS TOO Movement is Combating Online Predators
Now, to combat these dangers, the #KIDSTOO Movement is here to help empower moms with the resources and tools they need to fight back. KIDS TOO works collaboratively with other nonprofits to drive legislation that protects children from online predators, child sexual abuse material, and sex trafficking. The organization also provides parents with helpful information about how to spot warning signs and how to educate their children about the appropriate use of digital devices and platforms.
The KIDS TOO organization offers parents the following strategies as ways to help keep their kids safe when they’re using digital devices:
- Talk to your children about internet safety. If your children are old enough to be online, they need to be prepared for it. While you don’t have to go into graphic details about how predators use the internet, you can explain potential threats, such as grooming strategies, so your children can alert you if they encounter anything suspicious. It’s crucial to clearly explain online threats to your children and teach them internet safety skills.
- Install and use parental control apps. Monitoring your children’s online activity can be a challenge, as today’s parents are busier than ever. Parental control apps can help filter through all content on your children’s devices and simply alert you to any potentially troubling activity. They can also block your children’s access to specific websites.
- 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 your children won’t communicate with anyone while using the apps or platforms you wish to control.
- Set limits for online use. You can limit the people your children can interact with, and you can limit the time they spend online. While this doesn’t automatically ensure they won’t be exposed to predators, it does help you 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 your children’s phones and devices away after that time (or before their bedtime) can further decrease your child’s odds of encountering a predator. Also, it goes without saying that you cannot monitor their usage if the device is with them in bed and you are asleep in yours.
- Continue learning about direct threats within each platform. The KIDSTOO Movement has developed informational resources that address the top threats across all social media platforms—including Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Tiktok, Facebook, Tumblr, and YouTube—as well as how to use other online sites safely, including games, live streaming platforms, chat and meeting sites, and messaging apps. Arming yourself with this information can give you a detailed understanding of how predators may approach your children on each platform they use and give you specific ideas about how to keep your children safer.
Unfortunately, there is no magic formula for keeping kids safe online. However, these suggestions can certainly help moms work to prevent their children from coming into the crosshairs of a child predator. More importantly, these conversations and boundaries help create a dialogue between parents and children about online dangers as well as strategies to stay safe. Discussions like this can also help your children feel more comfortable approaching you if they later experience concerning communication online.
Online Predators Are Constantly Adapting
Parents must keep in mind, however, that since online predators are constantly adopting new and more sophisticated strategies for targeting children, parental safety strategies must constantly be reevaluated and restructured as well. Additionally, it’s vital for parents to alert the proper authorities if they discover one of their children is interacting with a potential child predator online. Parents can contact their local police department, FBI field office, and the CyberTipline (1-800-843-5678) to determine the appropriate steps.
There are hundreds of thousands of registered predators in our country. Unfortunately, the majority of offenders are not registered, and they continue to operate successfully in stealth mode, posing significant threats as they are not yet on anyone’s radar. The KIDS TOO Movement is actively seeking to bring this information to light so that all parents, everywhere, can work together to protect our children from all online predators.
Tania Haigh, CEO of #KidsToo
Tania Haigh is a passionate advocate for protecting children from harm. Through her work as co-founder of Parents Against Child Sex Abuse (PAXA), Tania identified a need to elevate parents’ voices addressing child protection.
After five years of taking on one of the toughest epidemics impacting children, Tania has disrupted the child protection space by launching the #KIDSTOO movement in November 2021. Beyond the hashtag, KIDS TOO builds on child sexual abuse, online safety, and child poverty. Tania’s commitment to this work reflects her tenacity in solving for these areas.