Recently, two 13-year-olds in Bucks County were victims of sexual assault after "meeting" their adult perpetrators online. One child told police that he met the person on Grindr, a social networking application.
You may know where your children are…but do you know what your children are doing? They may be in their rooms but chances are they're socializing–online–with e-mail, Facebook, Instagram, texting, instant messaging, Twitter, Snapchat, Apsense, Myspace, WhatsApp, Group Me, Tumblr, Flickr, Pinterest, Kik or Omegle. As parents, it's important to know where in cyberspace your kids are going.
Teens today are social butterflies! A national survey of teenagers by the Pew Research Center explored the extent to which teens socialize online. The survey was conducted online (makes sense, that's where they are) and in live focus groups over several weeks in 2014 and 2015. More than half of today's teens 13-17 years old have made a new friend online, and almost a third have made more than five new friends this way, according to Pew research. About one-fifth of these teens have met an online friend in person. More results:
"Parents need to learn more about sexual exploitation via use of the Internet," urged the Bucks County police from the cases above. Approximately one in seven Internet users between the ages of 10 and 17 fall victim to unwanted online sexual solicitation, according to a study by the Crimes Against Children Research Center. These numbers are likely just the tip of the iceberg as many children are unwilling to report for fear of embarrassment and fear that parents will scrutinize and prohibit their online activity.
Many parents are "on it." The Pew Research Center's survey found that most parents check what their teens do online — including the websites they visit and their social media profiles.
My advice: Follow the lead of these concerned parents. Encourage your teens to tell you immediately if someone online wants to exchange inappropriate content or photos—or if anyone other than their real-world friends wants to meet them. If you suspect online sexual exploitation, contact your local police and consider going online yourself to file a report with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.