Have you ever received a Facebook friend request from someone that you don’t know? Many can answer yes to that question, including our children.
Many traffickers spend time looking for victims on the internet, especially here in America. It often looks like a boy reaching out to a girl on social media and developing an online relationship. Over time, they become “boyfriend and girlfriend.” In extreme cases, the “boyfriend” starts grooming the girl and eventually pulls her into trafficking.
One of the greatest things we can do for our children is help them know how to prevent this from happening. Communication, knowledge, and healthy alternatives are three ways that we can help our children understand the world of trafficking on their level.
1. Developing Communication and Trust
One of the greatest tools in keeping your kids safe from unwanted attention is communicating with them about the issue. For example, you could start by asking them if they have ever gotten a request from someone on social media that they don’t know. Give them the chance to talk about their experience and why they think that person tried to reach out to them. In a non-threatening or accusing way, you can teach them to be aware that you never know who really is on the other side of the screen.
Giving your child the chance to speak up about their experience on social media can help you gauge what you need to help them know what to look for and avoid. Don’t be afraid to be clear and honest with your children about what you feel comfortable with and what you don’t feel comfortable with on the internet.
2. Knowledge is Power
How you explain the dangers of the internet is often done on a case by case basis for each child. Helping them understand how “bad guys” and predators misuse the internet can help them avoid danger. Help your children understand that this is not an issue that just happens far away in a different country, but that it happens here in the U.S. as well. Social media is a part of our daily lives, so helping our children be aware that these “bad buys” target them is important. If they understand the dangers, they will be empowered to know how to communicate in the world around them in the safest way.
Facts to Be Aware Of
The majority of victims in the U.S. are recruited into trafficking by someone they know or trust, or by new “boyfriends.” The traffickers will often pose as a mentor as they work on recruiting the child. Recruitment is the first stage of trafficking. Here are some signs that you can look for in this first phase:
- Older adult showing interest in child, asking questions about their life, family, hopes, dreams
- Excessive flattery
- Buying gifts
- Romantic interest, often by someone older
Read more about the stages of trafficking in the post Protecting Our Children from Sex Trafficking.
3. Healthy Alternatives
With media being so saturated with information and content, we may just simply need to teach our children how to use social media for good.
Children knowing that their parents are fighting against trafficking can motivate them to learn about it and take a stand against it. It is important to remember that this information can be tailored to your children’s specific needs and level of understanding.
Once our children understand what dangers are out there, they will often be able to figure out how to use social media safely with a little bit of direction from parents. It is not always necessary to explain everything that we know about the dangers out there, but it is necessary to keep open communication. Tim Ballard explained, “I think, in the world of child pornography and sexual abuse of children, I don’t want to be graphic with the kids at all, even with my teenage kids. I kind of let them just figure it out and let their brain stop them where they should be stopped, because the brain will do that.”
Opening up communication about the subject can be a good starting point, and as your children ask questions you can be prepared to answer them and help them with different situations. Taking steps like the ones outlined above can prevent many dangerous situations on the internet. Enabling our children to prevent danger in their own way will strengthen the fight against trafficking.
What can YOU Do?
For further information on this subject, read 3 Tech Setting You Need to Protect Your Kids Online.
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