If you are like me, I dreaded talking about sexuality with my kids. Unfortunately, in this digital age, if we wait too long and don’t share age-appropriate information, our children could learn a distorted view of sexuality from strangers or even predators.
We can all agree sex trafficking and sexual exploitation of children are horrific epidemics, ones that we never want to personally affect our children. According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, my home state of Florida ranks third in the nation in reported cases of human trafficking, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s Cyber Tip Line received over 18.4 million reports in 2018 related to child sexual abuse images, online enticement, sextortion, child sex trafficking, and child sexual molestation.
This means that we have to be serious about engaging in age-appropriate conversations in order to educate and protect our children. Awareness plays a major role in prevention and intervention. Equipping our children with accurate information is essential.
Sergeant Wade Williams with the Collier County Sheriff’s Office said, “One of the worst things a parent can do is give their child an electronic device without any restrictions and without having a discussion with them about what they will encounter online. You don’t want the child predator to be the first person to teach your child through grooming techniques and exploit them. If you do not take an active role, it is almost certain that eventually your child will be exposed to harmful consequences, such as an online predator, cyber bullying, sextortion or lewd content. Electronic devices provide 24-hour access to your child, and many times a child is being exploited in the ‘safety of their own home’ while parents are present and completely unaware.”
I hope this article gives you the courage and the tools you need to start the conversation, keep it going in an age-appropriate way, and teach your children how to be safe.
Talk to Young Children About Body Safety
Talk about “safe” and “unsafe” touching. A good example is teaching them that no one should touch them in any area that their bathing suit covers and that they should never touch anyone else in these areas or see pictures or movies that show these areas.
Use age-appropriate wording. You can discuss body safety without discussing sexuality.
Teach them the difference between healthy and unhealthy secrets. A good example is telling them a surprise party is a safe secret, because it will make people happy and they will be told at the right time. Secret touching is not OK. Develop open communication with your children by creating talking environments where they feel safe to be vulnerable without being judged.
Teach your children the proper names for their body parts. Children who know proper terms for their body parts have been educated by their parents and are usually aware of safe and unsafe touch, which would be a deterrent to a potential predator.
We have to be serious about engaging in age-appropriate conversations in order to educate and protect our children
Keep the Conversation Going
The best way to prepare children is to teach them to trust their instincts. If something seems too good to be true, it likely is. If something feels wrong, it probably is.
Slavery is a standard topic taught in school, and most kids believe slavery ended a century ago. Kids can relate to the concept of work without pay and not having the freedom to escape the situation. This is an excellent way to discuss the subject of human trafficking. You can share that there are more slaves today in the world than at any other time in history.
Teach Internet Safety
Teach your child to never to give any personal information and never answer questions such as birthdate, address, or social security number.
Place computers in a common area so that you can monitor. Chat sites are definitely not appropriate for preteens, and many are not appropriate for teens. If you allow your child to go to chat sites, know which sites they are on and investigate the conversation threads for yourself. Many sites that sound like they are intended for youth are not safe at all, such as
Teens tend to overshare information. What seems harmless between friends can end up pinpointing your child’s location, pattern of regular behavior, or potential vulnerabilities to a predator. Teach your teens not to overshare. Most cases of exploitation don’t occur through a stranger abduction. Most victims met their offender online, engaged in numerous chats with them over time, and were duped into “willingly” leaving their homes to meet them or self-produce lewd content.
Sgt. Williams recommends parents pay attention to which apps are age-appropriate for their children. Apps like Snapchat, Facebook, and Instagram are where the vast majority of child exploitation cases investigated by the Collier County Sheriff’s Office occurs. These apps may not be appropriate for children.
Do not allow your children to be in the bathroom or bedroom behind locked doors with a device as these are the most common locations where self-produced child sex abuse imagery occurs. A large number of cases occur in the middle of the night while the child is alone in their room with their device.
Use parental protections on all your child’s devices, including desktop and laptop computers. Apple devices have protection applications located under “Screen Time” in settings. Android devices have “Family Link.” Aside from these basic features, there are numerous parent protection apps that provide the ability to do many things, such as restrict access to obscene internet websites, set daily screen limits and locate your child’s device.
Lock your child’s ability to delete applications, change location sharing settings, or change the device or account passcodes without the parent passcode. Set time restrictions so that the device locks all apps at night while they are sleeping except emergency phone calls.
Learn more about protecting your children, from this video!
Most importantly, have a conversation with your child about what to do if they encounter things online that make them feel sad, scared, or are not appropriate. You can tell them mistakes happen but you will fix them together, so they don’t feel judged. If they think you will react negatively, they will likely never disclose what occurred and this could be very dangerous to them. There is no foolproof way to prevent your child from being exposed to dangers if they are accessing the internet, so make sure they make the right decision if it happens.
Always Know Where Your Kids Are
Apple devices allow you to share your child’s location with your device indefinitely. If using this feature on an Apple device, make sure to lock their ability to turn this feature off, which you can do under the “Screen Time” setting. Android devices have the location feature built into the Family Link app. This will allow you to locate your child’s device in an emergency, in a large crowd, or just for peace of mind during normal daily activities.
According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, stranger abductions are rare. Only 115 children per year in the U.S. are victims of stranger kidnappings. Younger children are less likely to be targeted by strangers than teenagers. This is why it is important to discuss good touch/bad touch with your children. Most child abuse and sex abuse cases are committed by someone close to the child, like a family member or close friend of the family, not a stranger.
However, it is essential to talk with your children about strangers and teach them to trust their instincts. Children should not be left alone with unknown adults, and kids should always travel in groups—there is safety in numbers.
Most child abuse and sex abuse cases are committed by someone close to the child, like a family member or close friend of the family, not a stranger.
Know the Warning Signs
Many children who are trafficked have a history of sexual abuse from earlier in their childhood. Noticing the warning signs can help children receive the services they need, so they are not further victimized.
Signs in younger children include gradual or sudden changes in behavior, cruelty to others and pets, recurring nightmares and disturbed sleep patterns, unusual interest in or knowledge of sex, fear of a particular person, loss of interest in friends, school, sports, or other activities.
Signs in older children include extreme and/or unexplained anger, running away, low self-worth, self-destructive behavior, promiscuous behavior, eating and anxiety disorders, suicidal thoughts or attempts, signs of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Take your child’s phone immediately if you believe a predator has contacted them. Save the phone and images for law enforcement.
For prevention, here are some resources we’ve found to be helpful:
—KidSmartz is a child safety program that educates families about preventing abduction and empowers kids in grades K-5 to practice safer behaviors. This program offers resources to help parents, caregivers, and teachers protect kids by teaching and practicing the “4 Rules of Personal Safety” using tips, printable activities, quizzes, articles, music, videos, and more.
—15 social media apps parents should know about.
—“Be Smart About Your Kid’s Apps” on the Collier County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page.
The following are internet accountability and management tools for parents:
—SaferKid provides end-to-end parenting support from when your child first gets a device through adulthood. It might be the most comprehensive parenting solution on the market and possibly the only one that anticipates danger and warns you before bad things happen. It costs $199.99 per year and has a seven-day money-back guarantee.
—Qustodio is a free parental control app for computers, tablets, and smartphones that helps you monitor your kids’ screen time and prevent them from seeing inappropriate content. You can set specific filters and time limits for websites and apps they use and supervise their usage history.
—Net Nanny is a highly powerful platform for parents to control what their children are seeing and doing on the web. It doesn’t just manage the time kids spend on the web. It also helps prevent cyberbullying, monitors cell phone activity, masks profanity, and blocks access to pornography. How intensely you choose to use it is up to you. Its suite of tools is accessible on most operating systems, either via web browser or mobile app. Fees vary from $39.99 per year for one device to $89.99 per year for 20 devices.
Don’t miss Christy Ivie’s discussion about child exploitation on This Grit and Grace Life: Sex Trafficking: Why Kids are at Risk and What You Can Do to Protect Them with Christy Ivie – 121!
To read more on sex trafficking and child safety, check out:
Here Are 5 Ways to Protect Your Child Online
How I First Learned of the Sex Trafficking Epidemic
8 Things Moms Should Say to Raise Strong Kids
The Solution to the Sex Trafficking Problem
Sneaky Teen Texting Trends You Need to Know About
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