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Teach Your Child How to Not Get Caught by a Catfish

At any given moment, there are thousands of predators online, looking for people to exploit. Children are often the target, but not always.

To realize just how easy it can be to create a fake, but realistic-looking online profile, consider the case of former Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o. He thought that he was in a relationship with a woman named “Lennay Kekau”, only to find out that it was an elaborate rouse. Law enforcement suspects that Te’o was not the only person to fall into this trap.

The very nature of social media often encourages the idea of anonymity. Very few people, beyond celebrities or politicians, bother to get themselves verified by social media platforms. The general public rarely bothers, even it is available. At the current time, Facebook does not even offer this feature.

Many social media platforms, such as Omegle and Whisper, don’t offer users a profile, much less a profile picture. They embrace the idea of anonymity. Anyone can claim to be whomever they choose online, simply by stealing an image online and putting it on their account. Kik has taken to occasionally having people prove that there is at least a real person using their service to avoid automated accounts, known as “bots” from becoming too common.

Legally, in the U.S., at least, a person can be punished for impersonating another person online. Assuming they’re caught, which is pretty difficult to do.

However, there is no law prohibiting a person from pretending to be related to someone else. That means that a predator or jokester can claim to be someone’s aunt/uncle, sibling, or any other relative without the threat of reprisal. This can lead people into accepting friend requests based on the premise of “innocent by association”.

Chris Hansen, who you may know from his television show, To Catch a Predator, is back with a new show, Hansen Vs. Predator. The original show routinely presented cases where men tried to “hook up” with young girls for sex. It was canceled in part because an Assistant District Attorney in Texas was caught in the sting and committed suicide when police came to arrest him. His family then sued NBC, who settled out of court in a wrongful death case.

Hansen used Kickstarter to fund his new show to protect underage users from online predators. He found that the situation had barely changed since his previous show was taken off the air. If anything, it may have gotten worse, as more kids are using social media than ever before.

The point is that this would not have been a problem if the teens had taken some very simple precautions. Online predators live in the darkness, like the trolls from fairy tales who live under the bridge in the dark forest. Being exposed is their worst fear. They will do anything to avoid it!

To avoid being taken in by a catfish who is trying to prank, groom or even kidnap a child, here are some easy things that they can do:

  • Maintain strict privacy settings on all social media accounts. Otherwise, predators can learn all they need to pretend to be from the same town or even the same school as the child by simply looking at their profile.
  • Look at their list of friends. Too few or too many are unrealistic. Pictures with only a few of the same people in them are a potential concern.
  • Does their account have a lot of typos or grammatical errors in it? This is especially important if the mistakes are in what should be their native language.
  • Look at the groups that they belong to online. Again, being a member of too many groups, especially with a very wide range of topics, should raise red flags.
  • Look at their posts, tweets, etc. If there are only minimal posts, that’s a sign of a new account. Be warned, though, that many predators maintain multiple accounts, posting over a long period of time to divert suspicion from them.
  • Never speak to someone online that you don’t know in real life and provide them with any personal information.
  • Before you accept a friend request or connection, verify the request offline. It could very easily be someone pretending to be a friend in real life trying to get access to your profile and contact with your friends and family. Once someone is accepted as a friend, they use this as a way to make other friends online from their victim’s other online friends.
  • If the app allows for it, have them send a very specific picture – one that is not likely to be faked. For example, ask for a picture of them holding a pencil in their hand while making the Vulcan salute with their face also in the picture. The likelihood that anyone would have such a picture on their computer already or could make one up on short notice is very slim. If they won’t provide such a picture, there is a good chance that they are a predator, no matter what reason they give for not being able to give you such a picture.
  • Ask them for a video where they answer a question, such as what is their favorite baseball team or the city they want to visit the most. Again, their face should be in the video.
  • Take a screenshot from their profile and upload it to the reverse image search by Google to see if the image shows up anywhere else.
  • Even without pictures or videos, if the person on the other end is someone the target potentially already knows, ask them a question that ONLY the real person would know, similar to how websites ask security questions for people who have forgotten their passwords. It’s not as reliable as a video or picture, but it’s a start.

No predator will want to acquiesce to these kinds of requests. Just be prepared to reciprocate, proving to them that you are who you say you are. Turnabout’s only fair.

For additional information on grooming by predators, visit:

The Debate on Teens and Social Media: In Perspective

The debate over the effects of social media on our teen’s mental health is a heated one. Some argue that social media is causing narcissism, depression, and anxiety among other things. Others believe social media actually aids people with depression and anxiety by giving them an outlet and a support group that they might not have had otherwise.

With rising depression and suicide rates, it is understandable that we would seek causes that are easily actionable, like social media use.

Regardless of which side you are on, this debate highlights some important issues facing our society right now:

Our society is developing at a faster rate than has ever been seen before. We are living in the Information Age and our children are more immersed in news, politics, pop culture, and advertisements than any generation before. Information is now widely available to adults and children alike and the dark parts of our society are coming more into the light. Our children know and see things that many of us didn’t have to deal with until we were adults, or didn’t have to deal with at all.

This means our dialogue with our children will have to change and the direction we choose to take this conversation will affect our future.

The internet is bringing mental health issues to light in a way that has never been possible before now. Social media platforms give individuals, who otherwise might never have had space, the place to discuss their experiences. This can be cathartic for them and help them find a community of people who relate. This is especially important for children and teens who may not have a healthy home life and good support system within their physical community. Mental illness is a major problem in our society and has been for a long time – as it becomes less stigmatized it will be easier for the kids and teens affected to reach out for help.

As they become more comfortable reaching out, it is up to us how their call for help is answered. Parents and communities have a wonderful opportunity to use the internet to observe and act on mental health issues before they become a crisis. However, social media, like mental illness, doesn’t play favorites. If the wrong person responds, the situation can escalate from bad to worse very quickly.

Social media can serve as a type of coping mechanism, something that helps kids, teens, and adults deal with the stressors of life. Coping mechanisms are important, but it is very important that they be used in a healthy way. Anything can be used to the point where it causes harm under the right circumstances and social media is no exception.

Social media is a tool. Tools are very important. Social media can be used to spread hatred and violence, or it can be used to organize protests against those same ideals. It can be a support system, a place of comfort, or a sounding board for a new creative project. It can be used amongst friends to make plans and share moments when they are far apart, or by loved ones to keep up with relatives who live in different cities. It can also be used to bully kids and spread disinformation.

We need to learn the positive impacts of social media on the world as well as the negative so that we can, in turn, teach our children how to use it in a healthy and positive way.

As we continue to find our way in this new world I believe it is important to keep a few things in mind.

  • Mental health issues are caused by a variety of factors, and the seeds for the crisis we are facing now were sewn long before social media.
  • Teaching our children to respect themselves and others will go a long way in both the physical world and online
  • For better or worse, the Internet is here to stay and social media is a huge part of that. I believe we need to keep an open mind and remember the good that can come from this shift as well as the bad
  • The Internet is a reflection of our physical world, the issues facing children online are also facing them in the real world and we won’t change the Internet without addressing the causes of those issues in the outernet.

When tragedy strikes we look for explanations. When something like the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting happens, we must ask questions like, did social media exacerbate Cruz’s mental illness to the point of violence? Or did we miss his calls for help and, in our grief, use social media as a scapegoat for a society that ultimately failed him?

For more information on the links between social media and mental health, check out these resources:

Teens, Social Media, and Technology – Pew Research Center

Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking – NCBI

Can Social Media Help People with Serious Mental Illness Feel More Connected to Their Community? – NIDILRR

Benefits of Social Media For Mental Health Support –

Getting Your Child to Talk to you About What They see Online

Perhaps the only thing harder than getting kids to eat their vegetables is getting them to open up about what happens online.

A recent study in the UK reported that an overwhelming majority of kids would tell a teacher if they saw something bad happen to another student in person. The same study reported that only about a third would tell a teacher if they saw something online that upset them. Parents did not fare much better, with the majority of kids saying that they would not tell their parents, either.

Why is this the case?

There are a number of factors which come into play here. At the top of the list is likely that teens are worried that parents will overreact and take away their devices. Related to that is that they don’t expect that adults can relate to how important social media is to them. And they’re right! Parents of teenagers cannot realize how important social media is to them because they have no firsthand experience in the matter.

In 2015, CNN did a great report called #Being13. They worked with teens, with parental consent, for a full year, seeing what they did online. CNN had full access to everything the teens did online. The results were stunning – even knowing that CNN was monitoring what was happening, some kids still engaged in cyberbullying and other inappropriate actions.

To help you understand how they feel about social media, here are a few quotes from teens who were part of the study:

“I don’t think parents and teachers understand why social media matters so much to kids my age. They don’t get that everything relies on how we look in a picture, how many likes/followers we have, if we get a comment back from someone, etc.”

“I would rather not eat for a week than get my phone taken away. It’s really bad.”

“Oh well, it (being cut off from his friends) happens a lot because my mom keeps taking away my phone. I guess sometimes I feel like I am not able to talk with anyone. I feel sort of like cut off from all my friends, because I am not going to be able to talk to them to see what they are doing.”

“My parents would ground me from my phone before they would ground me like into my room, because I am constantly always on it. If I am disconnected from that, I just feel like I have nothing to do.”

“I don’t like dealing with things face to face because it’s really easy to hide behind your phone.”

The feelings about how important social media should be clear to you now. During the televised show, CNN reported that 58% of teens would rather be grounded than have their phone taken away from them.

So, how do parents get their kids to open up to them? Because they really do want you to know what happens to them. They’re just afraid that their parents won’t be able to relate and will overreact to what they find out about what happens online.

Parents may not get their children to initiate the conversation about what happens online, but that doesn’t mean that the conversation can’t happen. It just means that parents need to be smarter about how they get the conversation started.

Here are some suggestions:

Ask the Questions the Right Way

Avoid the urge to “pounce” on a child at the first opportunity if you see questionable activity. Instead, calm down and be sure to ask your questions in a way that are more likely to get real answers. By that, I mean avoid asking questions that allow teens from simply providing one-word answers, such as “yes” or “no”.

Instead, ask open-ended questions that require the child to think about an answer and avoid one-word answers.

For example, instead of asking if they’ve ever seen anyone getting attacked online, ask them how often they see it happen. They can still answer in a single word, such as, “never”, but they are more likely to seriously consider the question and answer honestly. Other suggestions include:

  • How do you respond when you see something inappropriate online, such as cyberbullying?
  • How often do you see someone sending inappropriate images?
  • What upsets you the most online?
  • Can you explain to me what a catfish is?
  • Which social media apps do you no longer use and why?
  • Who would you come to if you saw something that upset you online?
  • What can I do to help you online?
  • What parts of social media do you like/dislike the most?

Never Respond Online to Bad Behavior

When you were younger, did your parents ever scold you in front of your friends? How did it make you feel? Now consider that something like that happens, but it’s saved for posterity because it was done online. The Internet never forgets.

If a parent does see something online that upsets them done by their child, avoid the temptation of responding online. This will only embarrass them and encourage them to start hiding their online actions from their parents. Many teens have multiple accounts on the same platform, otherwise known as Finstagramming. These accounts can be used to attack others in anonymity, but are often used to keep adults unaware of what they are really doing online.

Speak with your Child, not at your Child

Best-selling author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey, once said that, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen to with the intent to reply.” While he was speaking about people in business, the same principle applies to parenting.

When speaking about what happens online, it is important to realize that parents should be having a (two-way) conversation, not a (one-way) lecture. Speaking AT a child instead of WITH a child is an inevitable way to ensure that they never bring up the topic again. Or any other topic, for that matter.

Getting children to open up about their online lives can prevent problems before they get out of hand. Parents want to make sure that they are having discussions with their kids on a regular basis before a stranger online begins talking to them and convinces them to do things that are not in their best interest, otherwise known as “grooming” them.

In this case, an ounce of prevention is not worth a pound of cure. It’s worth an immeasurable amount of cure!

Is My Child the Right Age for Social Media?

Many parents are concerned about letting their children begin to surf the Internet or start using social media or online games such as Fortnite, the latest craze for kids. There is good reason for their concern. A common question is, “at what age should parents let their young children begin using technology?”

The bad news is that there is no specific age that works for all kids. There is a minimum legal age for people to use most social media sites such as SnapChat and Instagram in the United States. According to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA), anyone using those apps must be at least 13 years of age.

The law is not aimed at punishing children who use such sites before they are 13, but is designed to protect them from data mining and influence by advertisers and companies who provide in-app purchases. The Federal Trade Commission, who enforces COPPA, ensures that companies comply with the act or face disciplinary action.

As parents, my wife and I never pre-determined at what age we would allow our daughter to start using social media. As a cybersafety advocate myself, I know what can happen to children who go online. While parents often concern themselves with cyberbullying, there are other serious concerns, such as sextortion, where kids are forced to give explicit images and videos of themselves to other people. I personally know people who have experienced this and I know how devastating it can be to families.

My daughter is in middle school now and was the last of her crowd to be allowed to use Snapchat. She was missing out on many group activities by not being online. Everything was discussed online, so she had no idea the conversations were going on and ended up missing out on a lot. Her group of friends would talk about meeting at the bowling alley or going swimming. She only found out later, when they were discussing how much fun they had together, what she had missed.

When we decided to let her use Snapchat, we set some very specific ground rules:

  • She was to “friend” me on the app.
  • She was not allowed to speak with people she didn’t know in real life.
  • I had the sign-on credentials for the account, which was created using an email address that I no longer used, but could still access.
  • Her privacy settings were set at the most restrictive level.
  • She was to hand over her tablet if requested. Her cellphone was not a smartphone, so she could not download apps onto it, but she could send texts.

The first lesson taught in business management school or in officer’s training in the military is to never give someone an order than you know cannot or will not be followed. At some point, your child will most likely start using social media. Prohibiting them from doing it is not really an option in our society. They are likely to ignore your wishes and that is a recipe for disaster. When they expect to get into trouble for using social media in the first place, it makes it even more difficult for them to come to you if something bad happens.

Here are some tips on what parents can do to transition their children into social media when the time comes:

  1. Talking
    An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Let your children know what is and what is not acceptable online. Teach them what to do if someone asks them for inappropriate pictures, to share personal information, such as where they live or for their email address or phone number. If a problem does happen, be sure to talk with your child and not at your child. Talking at them is the surest way to get them to tune out your message, as well meant as it may be.
  2. Take Steps to Protect Your Own Device
    Part of the concern is the amount of money children, especially very young children, might spend online. If you have stored credit card data on a device that you let your child play with it can definitely hurt your wallet since they can make purchases without your knowledge or approval. There are a few things you can do to avoid this. You can decide not to store your purchasing information on your device, or you allow them to make limited purchases by simply purchasing gift cards and loading into your account as you deem acceptable.
  3. Set the Example
    Children, especially younger children, pay attention to their surroundings. Far more than most adults would expect. If they see their parents doing something, then they believe it’s okay for them to do it as well. So, set the example for them about how people should behave online.
  4. Be Proactive & Stay Informed
    Technology changes on a daily basis and parents need to keep on top of the changes. School districts may be reluctant to discuss cybersafety issues. Encourage them to do so before an incident happens. On your own, find reliable sources of information regarding cyberbullying, inappropriate apps for young kids, etc. Two great resources are the Cyberbullying Research Center and Common Sense Media.

By taking the steps discussed here, your children are less likely to have a dangerous incident. An ounce of prevention really is worth an immeasurable amount of cure.

The ability to know how to use technology is not the same thing as knowing how to use it wisely.

Wisdom only comes with experience and by definition as young children, their ages exclude that possibility. That’s why it’s up to us as parents to decide how to guide them, no matter what age they are.

How to Stop Cyberbullying: Digital Citizenship for Children

“Cyberbullying” or “electronic aggression” means deliberately using technology such as smartphones, the internet, social media, or gaming environments to harass, humiliate, badmouth, or threaten someone. Like any form of bullying, online bullying can poison someone’s joy in life, reputation, and well being. An antidote is a substance that can counteract a form of poisoning, and teaching digital citizenship can be a powerful antidote to cyberbullying.

A citizen is an inhabitant of a place – and the online world is a place where most young people live a great deal of the time. According to Mike Ribble, author of Digital Citizenship in Schools and Raising a Digital Child, parents and educators are often like immigrants to the online world, while their children are like digital natives.

Many adults are intimidated because technology changes constantly and rapidly, and it can be hard to keep up with it unless you grew up with it. Fortunately, the values and behavior of a good citizen are the same regardless of whether you are online or in the “real” world.

A commitment to act with respect, safety, and kindness towards yourself and others knows no boundaries. The knowledge of how to protect yourself from harmful words, whether you hear them or see them, is the same. The importance of staying mindful is relevant no matter where you are. And bullying is unsafe, disrespectful behavior, whether it happens in person, on paper, or with electrons.

Here are five steps that parents and educators can take to teach their children and teens about what it means to be a good digital citizen in ways that will help to prevent and stop cyberbullying.

1. Set a good example.

Remember that the actions of young people’s close adults have a powerful influence on what they will do. As one teacher told me, “At our small private school, parents were gossiping, online and offline, about the troubles of one family. It is not surprising that their children started posting insults about a boy in that family who was having a hard time.”

Let the children and teens in your life see you choosing to stay respectful even when you are upset. Let them see you reaching out to communicate in person directly and respectfully with someone with whom you have a problem rather than complaining behind this individual’s back. Or, if this doesn’t work, going in person to someone who is in a position to do something about the issue. Let them see you state disagreements objectively and politely, without name-calling or sarcasm. Let them see you choosing NOT to “like” or share a post or photo that is hurtful or disrespectful, even if it seems amusing. If you make a mistake, let them see you saying so – and showing how you are going to make amends.

State your disapproval when people in positions of power and prestige act in harmful or disrespectful ways, even if you appreciate their winning a game, enjoy their music or films, or agree with their politics. Model balance by turning your technology off and doing something together out in nature or with other people without being connected electronically.

2. Stay connected with your children’s worlds online and everywhere else.

Every day, thousands of kids think about ending their lives because of cyberbullying. They endure torment their own parents don’t learn about until an emergency, such as a suicide attempt, calls the problem to their attention. Tragically, this is sometimes too late.

Protect and supervise kids until they are truly prepared to make safe and wise choices themselves. Kids are safest when their adults know who is with them, what they are doing, and where they are going. Remember that with technology, even if you are side by side with a child, you won’t necessarily know what online content they are consuming unless you are looking at the same screen. Discuss the Kidpower Protection Promise with all the young people in your care: “You are very important to me. If you have a safety problem, I want to know – even if I seem too busy, even someone we care about will be upset, even if it is embarrassing, even if you promised not to tell, and even if you made a mistake. Please tell me, and I will do everything in my power to help you.” Point out that cyberbullying is a safety problem.

3. Treat kids’ freedom in the use of communication devices as a privilege, not an automatic right.

As one mother explained, “I was horrified when I learned that my daughter had texted embarrassing photos and attacking remarks about a couple of kids on her swim team. I heavily restricted her use of her devices until she wrote an essay about the harm done by cyberbullying and gave it in person along with an apology to her teammates and coach that she rehearsed with me ahead of time to make sure that it was respectful and clear. Although she was furious with me, I felt that my child needed to understand the seriousness of this kind of behavior and to make amends.”

Make clear agreements so that young people know what their responsibilities are as digital citizens. Kidpower’s free Digital Citizenship and Safety Agreement provides a template you can use and adapt for your specific needs.

4. Teach kids not to do anything online that they wouldn’t want the world to see.

One transgender teen was shocked when they found out that a boy they had trusted had encouraged them to text about their feelings about their gender identity – and then forwarded these very personal messages to a bunch of other kids, along with sneering comments. The boy who did this was shocked to discover that he got into big trouble for cyberbullying that he had thought no adult would ever know about, especially since he had deleted the forwarded messages.

Young people need to understand that even though a communication seems very private and anonymous, and even if the developers claim their platform is private, what they do using technology leaves an electronic footprint that can become public, including to potential employers or college admissions offices. In addition, even if they delete it later, an electronic communication can spread very far and very fast, with much greater consequences than they ever intended. Sending or receiving sexually explicit photos of anyone under 18 years old, even if intended to be privately shared, and even if the photos are “selfies,” can be considered child pornography and trigger serious legal consequences.

5. Teach young people how to take charge of their safety and well being, online and everywhere else.

Part of good citizenship is knowing how to act if you have a problem that harms the well being of you or someone else. If you get or see a threatening or harmful message, don’t answer back and don’t delete. Take a screenshot, and go tell an adult you trust. One boy, “Max”, asked his parents for help after a couple of former friends had put up a Facebook page saying “I hate Max” that was “liked” by hundreds of kids in his high school. As you can imagine, this experience was devastating. Max says, “What helped me was having the support of my parents who got Facebook to take the page down and who kept telling me that what happened was not my fault; going to a counselor; going to a Teenpower class to practice what to do when you have problems with people; and finding some new friends.”

Practice Kidpower ‘People Safety’ skills such as how to: protect your feelings from hurtful words; set boundaries with yourself and others; communicate and connect with people in positive ways; stay in charge of what you say or do no matter how you feel inside; move away from trouble; and be persistent in getting help from busy adults. Practice ways to speak up, say “No” and “Stop”, and use other peer diversion tactics, and practice persisting in the face of negative reactions. Practice putting your hands down and stepping away from the technology when you feel tempted to post, agree with, or share something hurtful or disrespectful. Kidpower International provides educational materials and training in how to teach these skills to people of all ages, abilities, cultures, beliefs, and identities.

Finally, understanding about digital citizenship is useful for much more than stopping cyberbullying. As defined by Mike Ribble, digital citizenship has nine major themes for describing appropriate and inappropriate uses of digital technology (Ribble, Bailey & Ross, 2004; Ribble & Bailey, 2004a). They include: Rights, Safety, Security, Access, Communication, Etiquette, Responsibility, Education, and Commerce. CommonSense Media has a free curriculum with k-12 lessons based on these themes.


How to Protect Kids From Online Predators

Troubling research about our kids’ lack of online smarts and predators’ new grooming techniques to lure them. Advice based on studies to keep kids safer online and parents and child givers better educated.

Studies show that predators are using more subtle and savvier ways to “befriend” kids including pretending to be another teen or child as a means of forming a relationship. The purpose of this blog is not to scare you or have you overreact and pull the plug on your computer. The chance that your child will be befriended by an online predator is rare. But the news about two Virginia Tech students befriending and then luring a vulnerable 13 year old online only to allegedly murder her is so horrific and sad that it should make every parent watch their children closer and have a serious conversation about online safety.

But the Virginia Tech story is not isolated. Over the last few months a few parents have contacted me about their children who did encounter online predators. Two teen girls left with those men who groomed them online. Their parents are trying desperately to reunite with their daughters. Both families recognized the warnings I’m giving in this post – but only after I shared them. They urged me to post them. “If we’d only known,” they told me.

So, not to scare you, just to educate you and hopefully save you from the heartbreak those parents are now enduring.

An Online Predator’s Profile

The term “Sex Predator” is a universal parent nightmare. The term alone sends shock-waves through every bone in our body.

University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Research Center survey rejects the idea that the Internet is an especially perilous place for minors, but finds that the nature of online sex crimes against minors has actually changed little between 2000 and 2006. But we do need to stay educated.

We know online predators do exist, are a very real threat, and use the anonymity of the Internet to their advantage. Here is what you need to know to help your child.

A predator can be a he or a she, young or old, rich or poor, or any race or zip code. Law enforcement officers are noting a change most in the profile of the adult offenders. The proportion of younger adult offenders, aged 18-25, rose from 23 percent to 40 percent of arrests in cases with actual underage victims. The researchers hypothesize that the age shift may be a consequence of younger adults, who came of age online, and are now more likely to seek out victims on the Internet than elsewhere.

The Grooming Process

Regardless of age, predators have one commonality: they are master manipulators when it comes to kids.

Online predators rarely swoop in lure children or teens into quickly meeting at the local park and then abducting them. Instead, they build a relationship with the child online and slowly develop trust.

The actual “Grooming Process” can take several months in which the predator’s goal is to create a comfortable bond between himself and child. That bond is difficult to track but does give parents time if you are monitoring your child and your child’s online presence.

Research finds that one big problem is that kids can’t spot whether they are chatting online with an adult or a teen.

REALITY CHECK: 4 in 5 kids can’t tell age of person they are chatting with

In 2010 students from various ages took part in experiments designed to help researchers know how to create the right software to track pedophiles online.

The 350 children and teens in the study were from the Queen Elizabeth School, Kirby Lonsdale, Cumbria. The funded project was part of the Economic and Social Research Council/Engineering and Physical Science Research Council.

The good news in the research (and there is some!): the computer software did “significantly better in correctly working out whether web chat was written by a child or an adult in 47 out of 50 cases–even when the adult was pretending to be a child.” But some findings should be a parenting wake-up call.

What Kids Don’t Know That Could Hurt Them

  • Four in five children can’t tell when they are talking to an adult posing as a child on the internet.
  • Four in five kids thought they were chatting to a teen when in fact it was an adult
  • Students as old as 17 struggle to tell the difference between an adult posing as a child or a real child “befriending” them online
  • Overall only 18% of children taking part in the experiment guessed correctly as to the age of the “predator”

6 Messages to Keep Kids Safer Online

While there’s no guarantee that we can always protect our kids, research is clear that the more educated we are about potential dangers the less likely our children will be victimized. Children who are unsupervised, more vulnerable, lack friends, bullied at school are also more vulnerable to an online predator.

Beware: authorities have growing concerns about popular mobile messaging apps like kik, that allow users to remain anonymous and appeal to a younger crowds. Know the apps that are on your child’s digital devices.

You must be educated about online safety — and then you need to teach your child those lessons. Just keep tips age appropriate and remember that it is always better to bridge such a topic in short ongoing chats instead of one big marathon lecture.

A key point: teens say that “being educated” helps them be safer. You might want to review the research from Queen Elizabeth School with your teen.

Here are a few messages to weave into your critical parenting lessons.

1. “Never-ever-give personal data online”

Never give out personal information online must be your one “no budge” family rule. We taught our children that rule when they were toddlers (“Don’t give your name and phone number to strangers.”) Use the same rule with your older child or teen.

Detective T.J. Shaver of the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office in Kansas points out: “Predators often use multiple accounts to get information from children. In one account they get a name, on another, they will obtain school information and activities. On a third they will get the child to talk about their hobbies.” Withholding personal data makes it difficult for a predator to befriend a child.

2. “Do not post photos divulging identity and interests”

One way predators try to build “trusting” with a child is by trying to establish that they “share” similar interests. So predators often search profiles and read emails and chat rooms to gather information about the child’s actual interests or passions and then convince the child that they have a lot in common: Tell your child to never post photos divulging such information. (Such as a kid wearing a hockey jersey. “Hey, I love to play hockey. Do you?” A picture of her with her favorite handbag. “I love Coach bags. What about you?” A t-shirt wearing bearing his school colors, name or mascot,)

3. “I will be supervising that computer”

Do NOT give free reign on that computer. Predators pick up on little cues that certain kids are not supervised – which means easier access for them. (For instance: the child is online for extended periods of time or online during hours when parents would be normally monitoring that computer).

4. “Be wary of any adult who wants to “keep a secret”

Predators want to keep their relationship with a child a secret from . their parent. A predator may also make a threat to the intended victim if “he tells.”

Teach the True Friend Rule: “Would a real friend ever threaten you or your family with harm?”

5. “NEVER ever meet anyone you meet online face to face”

Period. End of statement.

6. “You can tell me anything

Stress to your child messages such as: “I’m here for you. We can work things through. I love you.” In case there is a problem, your child needs to know he or she can come to you and that you are always there for them.

Clues A Child May Have “Online Troubles”

The reality is that your teen may not tell you that he or she is cyber-bullied or approached by a potential predator, but there are clues. The trick is to watch your child’s reactions in certain situations. Each situation is different but there are some warning signs.

Keep in mind that the signs may not indicate a predator relationship, but should be checked out.

  • Does your child receive strange phone calls, mail or gifts from people you do not know? (A predator may send “gifts” to befriend a child).
  • Does your kid switch screen names quickly or cover up the screen when you walk by the computer?
  • Has your child set up other accounts recently to receive e-mail, texts, or Instant Messaging?
  • Does your child appear nervous when you (or he) goes to the computer?
  • Has your child withdrawn from normal activity and is spending more and more time on the computer?
  • Is your teen suddenly trying to use the computer during off times when you’re not there or in the room?
  • Does your child get jumpy or upset when a phone call, test, voice mail or IM comes in?
  • Is there porn on the computer? While your child may have put that up, do know that predators often send pornographic pictures via the IM session or e-mail or in plain envelope via the mail. (Check your mailbox!) Beware: A predator can also use that pornography that as a scare tactic to a child: “If you cut off our relationship, I’ll tell your parent that you have viewed pornographic pictures.”

Stay educated about the Internet. Know your computer. Know your child. Believe your child. And above all, stay in charge!

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Dr Borba’s book The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries, is one of the most comprehensive parenting book for kids 3 to 13. This down-to-earth guide offers advice for dealing with children’s difficult behavior and hot button issues including biting, tantrums, cheating, bad friends, inappropriate clothing, sex, drugs, peer pressure and much more. Each of the 101 challenging parenting issues includes specific step-by-step solutions and practical advice that is age appropriate based on the latest research. The Big Book of Parenting Solutions is available at

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