Overview: With the isolation of COVID-19, children are using more videoconferencing and messaging apps. There is rising evidence that predators and criminals are following them and attempting to exploit children through these apps. Parents should take protective steps and educate kids about safely using the internet.
More Time Online, More Predators
As the COVID-19 pandemic has unfolded, and most of us stay at home and use software to interact, there have been a rising number of online child abuse reports. Europol, a research agency that assists European Union law enforcement, issued a report in June 2020 that found a rising incidence of both reports of attempted exploitation of children and increased trading of materials involving child exploitation. There has been a similar rise in reports from Australia, rising by one-third to 21,000 from the same time last year.
This is happening for a number of reasons:
- Children are spending more time on videoconferencing and social platforms to learn and socialize and may be meeting predators there.
- Demand for child exploitation material on the dark web has increased, presenting a financial motive for predators to attempt more abuse such as collecting video or photography.
- Parents and guardians needing to balance child care, employment, and other concerns may be more likely to leave children unsupervised.
- The strain the pandemic has placed on mental health may lower emotional defenses or simply exhaust parents and kids to the point where they may not see subtle red flags.
It’s important to remember that while the internet may increase the chances of “stranger danger,” the vast majority of child exploitation is done by somebody the family knows; a relative, a friend, or another trusted person.
Fortunately, protecting kids from those who would victimize them is a relatively straightforward process.
- Teach your family about the signs of attempted predation. Kids should know that if somebody does something or asks of them something that makes them uncomfortable, even if it’s a person they know, they should come to you.
- Demonstrate how to limit what strangers can learn from an online footprint or a profile photo.
- Use parental control software to limit unsupervised internet time by implementing a schedule and blocking certain apps from being opened or downloaded.
- Get familiar with the apps and games they want to play online. Learn how the chat systems work and how to report abuse or misbehavior, and try out the features to determine whether they’re acceptable in your household.
- Configure social media accounts and chat accounts to be as private as possible. Unless somebody knows your child and your child invites them to speak with them, they shouldn’t be allowed to interact.
- Ask your kids about what they’re doing online, or, even better, ask them to show you the videos they’re making, photos they’re shooting, and so on.
- Remember that predation comes in many forms. While there are sexual predators online, there are far more fraudsters and thieves that will try to trick kids into giving up passwords, identification numbers, and other information useful to a thief.
Parental control software like Screen Time can help enforce rules and protect kids. To learn more about Screen Time, contact us!