Parents tell us they are both supportive and wary of their children’s online involvement. Children and teens go online to do homework, grab an Uber, socialize, play games, and find out information about any topic – from sports to babysitting jobs to dating and sex.
Online Sexual Solicitations
Online abuse, however, is more common than we might like to think, so it’s important to understand how it happens. According to different research studies, between one in five and one in 11 youth (ages 10-17) has been sexually solicited online. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, females and teens (ages 14-17) are more likely to be solicited.
A sexual solicitation might be “What are you wearing?” or “What is your bra size?” to a more aggressive online solicitation where a child is invited to game at someone’s house – and that someone has ill intentions.
What Online Predators Need
The more a child uses the Internet, the more likely they are to be solicited. For abuse to take place, online predators need access to and privacy with children and teens.
95% of youth (ages 12-17) use social networking sites, and chat rooms, giving online predators tremendous access to minors. Even children under five are going online at least once a week.
With privacy and anonymity, predators engage youth across multiple media, from chat rooms to gaming sites to instant messaging. In fact, according to one survey, 89% of sexual solicitations targeting youth were made in chat rooms or through Instant Message.
Gaming also allows for private interactions, and 97% of teens (ages 12-17) play online games.
While researchers are still learning about the nuances of online grooming behavior, solicitation may include direct requests for chat, information, sexual activity, in-person meeting, or exposure to sexual materials.
Who Online Predators Target
Based on research by the leading experts in child sexual abuse prevention, predators seek youth with a history of sexual or physical abuse; who post sexually provocative photos or videos; who talk about sex online with people they do not know; and/or who feel alienated or alone. Boys who are gay or who question their sexual orientation are also vulnerable if they seek out information and connection online.
Risky Online Behaviors
Predators specifically look for kids who engage in four risky online behaviors:
- Communicating with unknown people
- Sharing personal information with unknown people (More than half of all teens have given out personal info online to someone they don’t know, including photos and physical descriptions.)
- Talking about sex online
- Meeting online friends in the outside world
Even youth who are not engaging in risky behaviors can be vulnerable in the “Wild West” of the online world. Seventy percent of kids (ages 8-18) have encountered pornography online accidentally, sometimes by entering a seemingly benign search term as part of a homework assignment. 
Now what can you do about this? Stay tuned for more content from Parenting Safe Children during Child Abuse Prevention Month. Oh, and have you taken The Parenting Safe Children Online Safety Quiz?