Your child’s online gaming friends seem perfectly innocent. They chat about the game, about its latest upgrades and frustrations, and about what’s going on in their lives. Unfortunately, some of these so-called friends could all too easily be predators–and your child might never realize that they’re falling into their trap. Predators often groom children during online gaming sessions, using familiar activities and behaviors to convince children and teens that they can be trusted when in reality, they can’t.
1. They will convince your child that they are a “friend.” In some cases, they may masquerade as a teen themselves in order to break down those barriers and convince your child to trust them. They’ll share “personal information” that convinces your child that they are opening up, when in reality, they’re simply grooming them for future exploitation.
2. They’ll play on a teen’s natural sexual curiosity and desires. Teenagers are often eager to find out more about the sexual world, and they’ll cross plenty of parental boundaries in order to satisfy that curiosity. Predators play into that curiosity, gently teasing teens across their boundaries one step at a time. They might start by chatting about sex or opening the door to those types of conversations in what appears to be a nervous manner, eventually progressing to much more dangerous types of discussions and behavior. They might also start with something as dirty jokes, leading up to a link to pornography or another type of content that your child doesn’t want to see.
3. They’ll listen to your child. Emotional trust is often built slowly, through simple interactions that build into something more. Just like a sexual predator in physical contact will gradually build from small, insignificant touches to more dangerous ones, an online predator will slowly and patiently build your child’s trust. They’ll listen to their problems, giving them the impression that they “understand them” better than anyone else or that they are able to give them something that no one else in their circle of friends can. This trust-building is one of the key parts of developing a relationship with your child and breaking down their boundaries.
4. They’ll encourage secrecy. Predators are aware that children might be innocent, but their parents are paying attention, have a good idea of what dangerous behavior looks like, and will react protectively if they suspect that their offspring are in danger. For this reason, many predators will encourage secrecy concerning the relationship. Parents should take note any time their child or teen suddenly stops talking about a particular friend who has particularly been a conversational staple.
5. They’ll separate teens from their friends and family. This is a very subtle process: gently mentioning that others “don’t understand” or giving the impression that their choices are malicious, rather than simply against the teen’s wishes. As the wedge between friends and family members goes deeper, the predator is able to better deepen their own relationship with your teen. They become the primary confidante and therefore lower their risks of discovery.
Keeping your child safe online is a process that should never be undertaken lightly. While you can’t monitor every moment your child spends online, there are several things you can do to help keep them safer.
- Set clear rules and expectations. Keep computers and tablets in communal areas where you can observe your child at any time.
- Discuss boundaries often. Help your child become familiar with the idea of online predators in an age-appropriate way.
- Stay aware of what, where, and when your child is playing. If their behaviors change suddenly, look for the reason behind the change.
- Play your child’s games yourself occasionally. Interact with their friends and get a feel for them.
- Remind your teen that online “friends” are still strangers and that private information should remain private no matter how well they think they know someone.
Setting boundaries with dangerous or age-inappropriate apps or games is always easier when you use a trustworthy mobile parental control software. Netsanity offers a suite of services , like their gameblocker, where certain internet-based games and apps, are profiled and parents can easily block and unblock them with a one-click solution. They have a 14-day free trial, so its worth checking out if your teen has an Apple mobile device. Later this year in 2016, they will also be rolling out their service to Android users as well!
As parents it is our job to never forget that the online world is large and dangerous. Teaching your children and teens to be internet savvy and aware of predators is crucial to keeping them safe!