If you happened to read Sloane Ryan’s Medium piece, you likely felt a mix of shock and disgust at the alarming prevalence of online predation nowadays. Ever since Sloane shared her story, we’ve been flooded with messages from people wanting to know how they can contribute to combating this disturbing trend. Many are also seeking advice on how to talk to their kids about online predators and ensure their safety.

we have a unique perspective, having firsthand experience with online predation. Below, we’ll share real-life examples and lessons we’ve gathered from our encounters with online predators. Our goal is to provide you with insights that can help you better grasp the issue and, more importantly, empower you to have meaningful conversations with your children. Engaging in open and practical discussions about how predators operate in the digital age is crucial for keeping your kids safe, both online and in the real world.

Watch Out: Predators Can Reach Out Anywhere

Risks involving children

Have you ever talked to your kids about the concept of “Stranger Danger”? It’s a way to help them understand the potential risks of interacting with people they don’t know. In today’s world, where online predators are on the rise, it’s crucial to guide your children in recognizing what is safe and what isn’t. Platforms like video game message boards, the comment sections on YouTube, and TikTok videos, as well as Reddit threads, have been identified as places where predators may lurk.

However, it’s not just the usual suspects; predators can turn up in unexpected corners too, like the FitBit community boards and chatrooms within Bible apps. It’s essential to convey to your kids that the risk of encountering inappropriate individuals exists even in apps and games that are not typically associated with such dangers. Encourage them always to let you know if someone unfamiliar starts a conversation, fostering an open line of communication about their online experiences.

The Online World Holds Risks Too

Dangerous labyrinth

The emotional toll inflicted by predators knows no geographical boundaries—it can happen within your city, across the globe, or from the farthest corners of the world. Children may face online exploitation, manipulative tactics, and at times, even violent threats from individuals attempting to control them.

It’s a common misconception that as long as your child is under your watch, nothing bad can happen. Unfortunately, the painful reality is that online abuse can impact kids, even if they’re just in the next room. Ensure your child understands that if anyone online makes them uncomfortable, they should inform you right away. If they come across something distressing, they might need your support in processing their feelings about the incident. Creating an environment where they feel safe to communicate is crucial.

Facing the reality of online predators can be challenging, especially when it comes to acknowledging the potential risk to your own child. However, avoiding this discussion denies kids the knowledge they need to stay vigilant in case they encounter such situations. Regardless of your child’s age, ongoing conversations about their devices, online interactions, and the content they come across are essential. Make these check-ins a routine part of your family’s daily life, creating regular opportunities for your child to share any concerns.

Once you’ve covered the basics with your child, it’s time to delve into how predators operate. Discuss online child exploitation and various tactics predators may employ. Some may seek explicit photos from kids, while others may try to send them. Some predators initiate relationships with seemingly innocent questions, gradually building what appears to be a harmless bond. Others might issue warnings about “bad people” online before engaging in harmful behavior themselves. Some even offer guidance during challenging times, using that trust to manipulate victims into abusive relationships.

While the ways predators interact with kids are distressingly diverse, providing your child with age-appropriate insights into their methods can empower them to recognize potentially harmful relationships as they develop. Open communication is key to ensuring your child feels comfortable sharing their experiences and concerns with you.

Children Are Never to Blame for Sexual Abuse

It’s crucial to recognize that children are minors in every sense—legally, intellectually, emotionally, and physically. They cannot provide consent for any kind of relationship with an adult. The most cunning predators excel in manipulation, always maintaining control, regardless of how the relationship is presented. Your child should never feel ashamed of their experiences with a predator. Even if a child initiates a conversation with an adult, they are not responsible for the direction it takes. It’s essential to convey to them that, regardless of the online conversation’s content, they bear no blame for the outcome.

Reassure Your Child: You’ve Got Their Back

Father and son walking in nature

The most significant support you can offer your child is ensuring they understand they can share anything with you—no matter how scared, embarrassed, or upset they may feel. When kids feel confident that they can seek help without fear of judgment or punishment, they are more likely to confide in you if they ever encounter a situation where they need your assistance.

If your child discloses that they’ve been communicating with an online predator, prioritize their safety and comfort above all else. This conversation will be emotionally charged for both of you, but it’s crucial to demonstrate to your child that you are there for them and that they can trust you to help protect them.

Creating a Digital Safety Net through Monitoring

Navigating parenthood in the era of smartphones presents unprecedented challenges. Despite engaging in open and ongoing conversations, implementing strict parental controls and privacy settings, and following all the advice on discussing online predators, children remain susceptible to digital dangers. To enhance online safety for kids, another proactive measure families can take is to monitor their online activities for potential issues.