[Part 1 in a 3-part series about Keeping Kids Safe Online.]
According to the National Center for Exploited and Missing Children, one in five children (ages 10-17) has been sexually solicited online and nearly 60% of teens have received an email or Instant Message from a stranger—and half have responded back.
For abuse to take place, online predators need access to and privacy with vulnerable children and teens.
95% of youth (ages 12-17) use social networking sites, chat rooms, or blogs, 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 text. 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. 97% of teens (ages 12-17) play online games and 27% of them game with people they first meet on online.
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.
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.
Predators specifically look for kids who engage in four risky online behaviors, all of which are more common than we’d like to think:
- 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. For instance, 70% of kids (ages 8-18) have encountered pornography online accidently, sometimes by entering a seemingly benign search term as part of a homework assignment.
Equipped with the facts, now it’s time to put together an online safety plan. Stay tuned for part two in this series.
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