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It goes without saying that raising children in this age of technology presents a wide range of advantages, from an expanded network of peers, resources, and opportunities, as well an endless supply of entertainment options! But the vast, and still growing world wide web has also raised a number of challenges for parents, namely, how to keep your children safe from online predators lurking in games, apps and sites frequented by the younger generation. In response to the many concerned clients seeking advice on how to effectively protect their children while online, Toronto’s trusted Private Investigator Team have compiled a brief guide for safe screen-time.
First, let’s start with the basics.
What is an online predator?
An online predator is an individual who uses the internet, gaming platforms, or online chat rooms as a gateway to seduce children or minors (in Ontario, those under the age of 18), leading to sexual abuse.
Some predators will pose as children, but the vast majority will reveal that they are older, which is often appealing to pre-teens and young teenagers. Most online predators are manipulative and extremely strategic in how they approach their victims, taking the time to immerse themselves in your child’s social media accounts to understand their interests. They use this intel to build trust by engaging in increasing personal conversations. The predator can request an offline interaction, or will demand compromising pictures using the threat of harm or exposure (Investigators refer to this behaviour as “sextortion”).
Remember that you would never trust your child to drive without the necessary instructions. Nor would you throw them into the deep end of a pool unless you were confident in their ability to swim. We should treat the internet no differently. We should be arming our children with the necessary wisdom and precautions before letting them freely engage in online activity, including games, chat rooms, and social media.
Key Tips to Protect Your Child from an Online Predator
Below we share our top tips for teaching your child how to safely engage with online platforms, and understand the warning signs should they be approached by an online predator:
Have the talk!
Talk (and listen) to your child about how the privilege of accessing games and apps come with responsibilities and risks. They should know how to treat others online, and how they in return should expect to be treated. Talk candidly about how to identify unsafe behaviour or content online and ensure that they will feel comfortable enough to seek your help if they are ever confronted with this behaviour. It is not about instilling fear within your children, but arming them with the information they need to navigate the internet safely.
Spot the signs
It’s imperative that you and your child understand the early warning signs of an online predator. While the approach of each predator will differ, here are some of the most common red flags:
- They ask a lot of questions, and consistently press you for personal information (birthday, address, school, friends & family life, etc.)
- They try to talk to you privately, pulling you from public chat rooms into private messaging platforms
- They already know things about you that you haven’t told them
- They offer you gifts
- They try to turn you against other people, or ask you to lie to friends and family
- They pressure or threaten you into doing something that you’re not comfortable with
- They ask you to send them pictures of you, or ask to video chat
- They suggest an in-person meeting
While this list is by no means exhaustive, it serves as a great starting point for teaching your children to be smart and cautious about who they engage with online.
Define rules around use
Particularly if your children are young, it’s advisable to come up with a set of defined rules or parameters around screen time. This may include an “open door” policy during computer use, time limits, rules around who they can chat with, or even the expectation of occasional “spot checks”. Implementing these parameters early on can make it easier for parents to keep a watchful eye upon internet use, and proactively spot any red flags.
Engage in new online apps and games with your child
Shared experience will help you identify any potential areas of risk by exploring the features of the online platform together. This promotes organic conversations with your child about how to use the platform safely and how they can spot red flags on their own.
What to Do If You Suspect Your Child Is Engaging with an Online Predator
Immediately contact your local police department. Do not wait and do not delete anything. The police have special detectives who deal with these very sensitive matters. There is a few specialty departments who have the expertise and equipment to catch these predators. If you’re not quite certain or ready to approach law enforcement or a prosecutor regarding a suspected online predator, it’s important that you have and preserve the evidence to present, in order for the investigation to move quickly before it’s too late. At Star Quality Private Investigations Toronto, we are proud to offer the services of a Private Investigator Team with highly specialized skills, tools, and experience in digital forensics. Our Team can verify and provide professional evidence of the online perpetrator to keep you child safe, and further, prevent other vulnerable children from falling prey to a predator.