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Protecting Your Child from Predators

Katya Bowd

Posted on July 05 2017

“Why do we have rules?” “To keep us safe.” This mantra is heard in my home a lot.

It’s all paranoia… until it’s your child. The conversation of protecting children from predators can prompt a broad range of responses, from shock to ridicule. This is understandable. It can seem like some parents are over the top with their protective measures, but it can also be shocking to read about actual occurrences of children being kidnapped or molested. It’s difficult to decide what measures you will take as a parent, to know how much to say to your child without scaring them, or to decide how old they should be before you let them in on how dangerous the world can be.

But, as they say – knowing is half the battle. So make a game plan. There are so many ways to protect your child while at the same time educating them. And this is really the job description of a parent. Care for them, and educate them. Be ready to answer their questions about why you do what you do. An excellent parenting tip for how to get the conversation started is to begin by putting the subject in terms they can understand. Watch the movie, Heidi.

This is the perfect way to tell toddlers about the importance of the rules you create for them. “Stay where I can see you.” “Don’t talk to strangers.” At first, to them, it all sounds like nagging if they hear you at all. But, when they see the story of a little girl named Heidi, it can bring it all into perspective. I especially appreciate this story as a teaching tool because Heidi is not kidnapped by a stranger. It was someone she knew, a relative even. I don’t emphasize this yet with my own children, but the idea is present in the story. Too often, predators are a trusted friend or relative, so the idea of “stranger danger” does not adequately address the problem. Once kids are familiar with stories like Heidi, it’s easier to give them a frame of reference for family rules. Walking through a busy shop, my daughter will hold the pocket of my jeans. Why? If her hand comes off for even a second I can feel it. If someone were to grab her I would know it immediately. If she stops to look at something on a shelf, I feel it and stop as well. This parenting advice is so helpful for parents with outgoing children. My daughter is not afraid of strangers if I am with her. But she is afraid of strangers if I am not by her side. This is a healthy fear – it prompts her to look for me immediately if she realizes we have become separated. This was not always the case. Sometimes when she was smaller she would bolt away to go look at something that captured her interest and my heart would stop. How many parents feel like Heidi’s grandfather – frantic, terrified of the possibilities – because someone picked up their child in a split second like that!

On the subject of picking up children, another critical parenting skill is knowing how to emphasize and enforce internet safety. Especially for older children, an understanding of healthy online habits and boundaries is essential. But it’s not really enough to educate them on the real possibility that people are not who they claim to be on the internet. As the parent, your job is to be your child’s first line of defense until they learn to be their own first line of defense. That being said, the following rules for internet safety are going to sound rigid and strict to the some, but they are going to be a great starting place for defining and setting up your own house rules.

Make sure the computer is in a public room of your house, with the screen facing the room.

There really is no need for your kids to have internet access in their bedrooms. To allow it is literally the same as allowing complete strangers to spend time unsupervised with your children. Don’t believe me? The astonishing frequency with which new apps are created everyday, being made available to kids with the goal of masking their internet usage from adults, can make your head spin. They are, of course, marketed in different terms, but make no mistake – apps that encourage your child to put more and more of who they are online while at the same time making it easier to make their presence invisible are not an innocent diversion. Keep internet usage visible to the eyes of everyone in your home, so red flags can be seen in a timely fashion.

Retain control of your kids’ passwords for social media and email.

Again, this will prompt an eye-roll from some. But kids have not had sufficient time to prove they are going to be responsible on the internet – so don’t put them behind the wheel without being able to monitor their interactions. Would you give your child a bus ticket and tell them to go where they pleased with whomever they wished? Absolutely not! Yet this is exactly what a person is able to do with privacy protected use of the internet if you don’t have control of the passwords.

Discuss the house rules with any babysitters or extended-stay visitors.

The last thing you want is for someone who has access to your home leaving unwanted trails of unsavoury internet activity on your home computer for your kids to find. The statistics for how young children are when they are being exposed to illicit material online can be really good incentive for having uncomfortable conversations. If awkward comments to your visitors are not your style, let your parenting style be made evident with a sign posted next to the computer (you know, like they have at the library) letting them know the use of the computer is conditional – it can be revoked for inappropriate use.

Train your child to let you know what they are doing – and let them know that you can verify what they tell you. 

The existence of accountability software makes parenting a little easier. But it’s still not 100% effective. The best practices are preventative, as mentioned above. To round off your measures for protecting your child online, however, it is best to have enough conversations with your child about internet safety that it’s not a shock to them when you install accountability software to help you monitor internet usage. In older children, if there is any rebellious response, you will want to take note – this is a red flag. But actively discussing expectations you have for their compliance with the house rules long before they show a ready interest in having free reign online will help. So start young! The more they are in the habit of coming to you for guidance regarding their online activity, the more obvious it will be to you if something’s not right.

The biggest parenting tip to keep in mind for protecting your child from predators is to be engaged, and plugged in with your child. They will have an easier time taking instruction from you because it will be easier to understand your concern is genuine. Disconnected parents are the ones who have the hardest time getting their kids to understand the dangers that exist and getting compliance with the rules. So start the conversation. Keep it going. Encourage questions. Be ready with age-appropriate answers that empower them and nurture their trust in you as a caring parent. And good luck.

What other tips can help parents establish protective measures for their children? We would love to hear your thoughts!