Did you know that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be molested before they turn 18?
That is one child too many!
Did you know that the FBI reported that over 500,000 online predators are active every day? Over 50% of their targets are children between the ages of 12 and 15. While you think your child is safe at home playing video games, predators are masquerading as children in live video game chat rooms hoping to get a phone number or have an explicit conversation. Almost 90% of sexual advances on children happen from the internet, instant messaging, and social media, according to the FBI.
Did you know that most children today will have their first understanding of sex from school, friends, or overly sexualized media instead of from a parent figure? Instead of growing up in a truly educational and safe environment, girls' and boys' first introduction to sexuality is at a young age (some as young as five) and oftentimes from an online predator.
Sadly, the reality is that if you don’t talk to your kids about sex and their body autonomy, the wrong person will. And it will probably happen online.
Young children are not ready for the emotional responsibility of porn or sexting that the internet easily brings to them. Learning too much at once (or at too young an age) can lead to many issues in a child’s psychological development. Most encounters with a predator might have been avoided if a child knew what a perpetrator is, how they talk, signs to look for, and knew what to do in that situation.
You are the safest and most natural person to teach your child about online safety and sexuality. When they hear about it from a teacher or a friend you have already laid the groundwork for how they are to think of sex and preditors how they are to respond to it.
Here are tips to help guide you as you talk to your child about online predators.
Tell Your Kids What To Look For
A child can’t run from a predator if they don’t know that predators exist. They need to know that there are “bad people in the world.” While you don’t want to scare your child, a healthy dose of awareness will keep them safe. Tell them keywords to look for that a bad person would say to them (like sex, puberty, nudes, pictures of their body, flattery, etc…), And if someone approaches them with this language, they need to know to tell someone immediately.
Teach Street Smarts
It’s also important to talk to your children about a safety plan. Basic street smarts can save their life. How do they find help if they get lost? How do they respond if a stranger asks personal questions? What do they do if they feel unsafe at school or a friend's house or online? What is your "secret code word" they can text you if they need help?
These sorts of safety conversations will open your child's mind about situational awareness and give them the tools they need to protect themselves. Just like a fire drill, it’s important to have a plan that’s been rehearsed and put into effect for dangerous situations that typically arise at school, at parties, or online.
Remind Your Children That It’s Okay To Ask Questions
If they are asking about something sexually related, it might be because they heard it from a preditor. Always welcome questions with calmness and honesty and discover where it is coming from. As your child grows and interacts with the world more, they will hear things and have more questions. The goal of an open-door policy is that they feel safe enough to talk to you instead of Googling it.
Make The Conversation As Normal As Possible
While it might feel awkward for you to talk about “the birds and the bees” or why some people are bad, try not to show it. Do your best to make the conversion feel as normal as if you were talking about why zebras have stripes. If you make sexuality a forbidden, awkward secret that they can’t ask you about, chances are, your child’s curiosity will entice them to explore in places that they shouldn’t.
Filter Their World
Pre-screen every movie, set parental locks on their electronic devices, and set up a program that allows you to be notified of their search history. Some programs even allow you to be notified who messages your child if they have social media. While you can’t filter everything your child hears and sees, you can reduce the risk of predators if you simply pay attention, set boundaries, and have open discussions with them.
Communicate with your child why you have to filter their world. They might be angry and won't understand now, but an honest conversation about why you are filtering their devices will help them accept the rules for safety. Remember, you are setting up boundaries and walls to keep destruction out of your home. Tell them that you love them and this is why they aren't allowed to go certain places, visit certain sites, or talk to strangers (or friends you don't trust.)
Name The Body Part
Making body parts shameful and pretending that they don’t exist will make it really hard (if not impossible) for children to come to you if someone tries to touch them there or talk to them online. They will think that they did something wrong and can either continue to be abused or suffer alone. It’s best to just call it what it is and move on.
Reassure Your Child
Sometimes a child’s response to fear is to freeze. Later they will feel guilt and assume that what happened to them was their fault because they froze instead of trying to fight back or asking for help. Always reassure your child that a predator is a bad person and that they won’t get in trouble (and you won’t get mad at them) if something happens. Your child is never bad for the actions of another person and they will never get in trouble for telling you the truth.
While it’s very common for parents to feel uncomfortable talking about certain facts of life with their innocent children, it’s best to hide your embarrassment and show them that you won’t make the conversation awkward. Keeping an open-door policy with your child is the best way to ensure that your child never becomes victimized, or if they do, you are in the best possible position to help them recover. Kids only become embarrassed and awkward if you teach them that that is the response to sex. Make these talks in your house common, safe, and normal.
Here are a few conversation starters you can use to talk to your kids at any age.
“The parts that a bathing suit covers are called private parts, and no one is allowed to look at them or touch them, okay?”
“What do you do if someone asks to see your private parts?”
“We don’t keep secrets. If someone asks you to keep a secret from mommy or daddy, what do you say?” (Encourage the child to say, “No! I don’t keep secrets from my mommy and daddy!” and remind them of your safety plan for this kind of situation.)
“If someone tries to touch you, say “No!” and run away.”
“It’s okay to run away.”
“Please tell me before you talk to a stranger online, okay?”
“I am always here if you have any questions.”
“I am always here for you!”