Online Relationships

an online safety guide for parents

If a child or teen feels lonely at home or at school, they often turn to social media or games to connect with others or disconnect from their pain.
Over a third of young people have started a
relationship with someone they met online.
-National Crime Agency
Talking to your children and teens about appropriate online connections is vital to their safety. As they learn healthy boundaries and behavior at school and at home, they should learn how to also implement those healthy behaviors online. Lead with open and safe communication so that if someone does start contacting them, they feel comfortable bringing up their concerns to you.
It is also important to talk to your kids about how to protect personal information. They may feel that it is appropriate to share where they live or where they go to school after getting to know someone online. Teaching them to safeguard their information and helping them understand who they can trust will help them navigate the online world.
You and your children have a right to privacy.
Take time to review the privacy settings available on each app to help you control what information is being shared.

Popular Apps + Risks

If your child has it, you should have it.
That simple principle can go a long way in protecting your children. If you don’t know a lot about a certain game or app, download it on your phone and look through the different features. This will help you better understand potential opportunities for predators to contact your child.

This is not a complete list of all apps and platforms available to children and teens. We encourage you to use this list to learn what potential risks exist within each category of app or platform.
The nature of some social platforms and apps is to make it as easy as possible to share private information or locations. It is important that children and teens understand what is safe to share and what should be kept private.

There is an elevated risk on more visual-based apps for children and teens to broadcast home locations and clues to places they frequently hang out. If this information is public, predators can start understanding what vulnerabilities a child has and what they enjoy doing, making it easier to make a connection with them over a chat or direct message.
On some apps, users can post stories that will only appear for 24 hours. Remind your children and teens that even though stories may seem temporary, other users can screenshot anything you post.
Child predators often try to take online conversations with minors to a private messaging app to avoid public suspicion. It is common for them to initiate conversation on one app and then ask the minor to switch to another app for privacy. This way, it is easier for the predators to ask for explicit pictures. These apps have also been used to buy, share, and trade images of child sexual abuse material.
spot a friend
Spot a friend
coFfee meets bagel
Coffee meets Bagel
While dating apps should be 18+, some are labeled as 17+ or don’t have minimal age verifications. This means teens can easily join the app by lying about their age. A teen seeking connection can sign up, start messaging adults, and develop unsafe or inappropriate relationships with them. Some apps are even made for meeting in person for sexual experiences, putting teens in immediately dangerous situations. Even when these interactions remain online, private messaging and photo functions open doors for exploitation and enticement.
keep safe
Applications and websites have multiple features that allow users to hide their pictures and messages. These features are accessible to any user, regardless of age. Kids and teens often hide inappropriate messages and chats from concerned parents or friends. While this is sometimes out of a desire for independence and privacy, predators take advantage of these features to keep their exploitation a secret.

Some of these features include:

HIDDEN PHOTO VAULTS: These “vaults” are on photo apps where users can make photos hidden so they are only accessible via passcode.

FAKE PHOTO APPS: Apps such as the “fake calculator” allow users to disguise the application itself, making it easy to hide sexually explicit photos right on their home screen.

PRIVATE BROWSERS: Kids can erase search and website history on private browsers, making it easy to hide online activity and communication.

ENCRYPTED AND DISAPPEARING MESSAGE APPS: These apps encrypt messages and can even automatically delete messages, making it difficult to track a child’s incoming and outgoing messages.



Your digital footprint includes any information shared online by you or about you. The comments you post, videos you share, and photos you are tagged in are part of a public data pool. Even if you delete a photo, it may still exist on the app’s server or as a screenshot on someone else’s computer.

Anything you post publicly online becomes a part of your digital footprint. Online predators may search for more information about their target, so it is important to turn on privacy settings to keep your child protected.

Here are some tips to manage a digital footprint:
Use privacy settings to safeguard your personal photos and videos
Remove any content that may misrepresent you
Delete old accounts, especially public accounts
Know what you are comfortable with other people sharing about you online
Ask others for permission before sharing their photo publicly
Avoid posting photos that show your address or typical schedule
Guidance from a former Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Investigator and current undercover operator for O.U.R.
Before posting those photos and videos of the kids playing in the sand at the beach on your last vacation or running through the sprinkler on the 4th of July weekend break, take a moment to double check your social media privacy settings. Sex offenders are known to utilize popular social media networks to search for and download photos and videos of children for exploitative purposes.
Child sexual abuse material (CSAM) contains many different media categories. Those graphic images of “child sexual abuse” are what we most commonly see or hear about in the media. Sex offenders photographing or recording the sexual abuse of their victims and then sharing and distributing that content leads the headlines in newspapers across the country on a nearly daily basis.
However, when it comes to CSAM, online predators are not only using the internet to find child victims to groom, manipulate and eventually exploit and abuse. Offenders are just as actively searching for and downloading innocent images of children from public social media profiles belonging to unknowing parents and grandparents.
Imagery might include nude or partially nude images of extremely young children innocently playing together, modeling photo shoots, sporting events or dancing. These are often found bundled together on peer-to-peer file sharing networks and the dark web and marketed as child erotica or nudism. This content can be just as sought after as graphic sexually explicit content, sometimes even more as it may not always be classified as illegal content.
So, before you upload and post, make sure you know your audience, understand your privacy settings, and have thoroughly reviewed the content.
As a former Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Investigator and current undercover operator for O.U.R., I have interviewed hundreds of offenders and have seen first-hand the destruction caused by these types of predators. Their ability to identify, manipulate and control victims is powerful. The last thing that we, as parents, need to do is allow offenders unrestricted access to our social media profiles.

Chapter 9:

Start Talking