Sexual Predators Online – “Form The Norm” For Your Child
There it was. Stone cold. Staring me squarely via Twitter DM (a.k.a. “direct message”).
Last week, a young girl reached out to me and asked, “What’s up, girlfriend?” I returned her message, politely thanking her for the follow. (For those of you not on Twitter, people “follow” one another to connect.) Coupled with a few other remarks she offered, “I’m just 12-years old”. Well, my protective instincts quickly kicked-in and I shot a DM back, reminding her that the minimum Twitter user age is 13 (for good reason!). I then asked if her parents were aware she is “Tweeting”. She replied, “Of course they know and I turn 13 in just a couple of weeks.”
Well, this isn’t my first rodeo. I know that her parents either: 1) do NOT know she is on Twitter; or 2) know she has an account, but are not actively engaged in her online safety, as evidenced by the provocative pose in her profile picture.
As I become a frequent Tweeter, I am alarmed to see first-hand so many young children with profiles void of safety controls. Kids truly don’t understand their vulnerability to online sexual predators. The availability of social media provides all-too-easy access for predators to unsuspecting children, tweens and teens.
While sexual predators do attempt to personally meet kids with whom they’ve connected online, it’s even more common for them to introduce sexual content to those children in the form of online conversation, photos and videos. This proves dangerous, especially for children and tweens whose sexual exposure and knowledge base is a virtual blank slate — that lewd exposure begins to establish a sexual baseline for those kids.
Parents, teachers and caring adults: PLEASE, PLEASE take note!
70% of children ages 8-18 report unintentionally stumbling across pornography online. In fact, the average age for a child to be exposed to pornography is only 11 years old. I learned some alarming facts about a year ago at a child abuse conference. Porn these days is no longer of the ‘vanilla’ variety… much of it involves child molestation, torture and zoophilia.
For children with little to no knowledge of the social standards for normal sexual behavior, these images form their norm… their baseline understanding for how they *think* sex and relationships are supposed to be. In fact, several reports have suggested that exposure to pornography and sexually explicit images, regardless of whether those images were accidentally or deliberately viewed, impacts a child’s sexual attitudes and can lead to unsafe or risky sexual behavior.
A recent survey by the parenting site Netmums.com states that parents are generally unaware of their children’s online activity and indicates many kids are viewing websites of disturbing topics such as self-harm, violent pornography, animal cruelty and eating disorders. Over 25% of the children surveyed admitted to pretending they are older to access certain sites… case in point, my Twitter follower of last week.
This is an international problem. The Children’s Commissioner for England Dr. Maggie Atkinson brilliantly summarized this issue when she remarked:
“We are living at a time when violent and sadistic imagery is readily available to very young children… even if they do not go searching for it, their friends may show it to them or they may stumble on it while using the Internet. For years we have applied age restrictions to films at the cinema, but now we are permitting access to far more troubling imagery via the Internet. It is a risky experiment to allow a generation of young people to be raised on a diet of pornography.”
Bottom line… know what your kids are doing online. Implement measures to monitor their activity. Talk with them about relationships and age-appropriate sexual behavior. Address questions they may have openly and truthfully. Your diligent involvement is crucial in helping establish normal baselines for their future growth and development.
Raising awareness of the world-wide epidemic of child abuse has become Ginger’s life mission. An impassioned child advocate, trainer, speaker and child forensic interviewer, she can be reached via her website “Ginger Kadlec: 4UrKids™” at www.gingerkadlec.com.
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