Parents Beware: Prime time for predators and other virtual dangers

As an increasing number of young people utilize the internet for virtual learning, parents should be hyper-sensitive to virtual dangers lurking daily.

Do you know who your kids are communicating with?  Do you know what they are seeing on social media?

Let me give you a few reasons why you should pay attention:

Fatal Social Media Challenge

A 15-year-old girl in Oklahoma City has died following a new social media challenge called the “Benadryl Challenge”.  Basically, the challenge encourages you to take over a dozen or more doses of the medication in order to hallucinate.  In this case, the end result was tragic.

In addition, it was reported that several teens in Texas were hospitalized after participating in the challenge in May.

Unfortunately, the problem with social media challenges is that the message can be spread by a multitude of users millions of times.

Sexual Predators

Recently, a four-day undercover operation in Ohio led authorities to 27 men who were arrested for attempting to sexually abuse children.  According to law enforcement, the men, who range from 21 to 61 years of age, were sending sexually explicit messages to undercover officers posing as children.  The men were taken into custody when they arrived at a vacant house where they believed they would engage in sexual activity with purported children.

Here in Mississippi, Attorney General Lynn Fitch recently announced the sentencing of three men on child exploitation charges.  The cases originated after investigators discovered that in one case, the individuals uploaded sexual abuse images to an email account, and in two other cases images were uploaded to a cloud storage account. Using several techniques, investigators were able to identify the suspects who later admitted ownership of the devices.  The men were from Lowndes and Forrest counties.

In New Jersey, 21 individuals have been charged with sexually exploiting children online. The 19 men, one woman, and one juvenile male were arrested in “Operation Screen Capture,” a collaborative operation launched in response to a dramatic increase in reports of potential threats to children from online predators during the COVID pandemic.

Trust me, there are more stories like these than you could ever imagine, and it’s frightening.

According to the FBI, the internet, for all of its benefits, also gives criminals and predators an easy way to reach young people. Crimes against children begin when an adult:

  • Forges a relationship with a young victim online and then later arranges to meet and abuse the child; or
  • Coerces a child into producing sexually explicit images or videos through manipulation, gifts, or threats—a crime called sextortion.

What can you do?

The FBI states that the most important advice for parents is to have open and ongoing conversations about safe and appropriate online behavior. Other advice to consider:

  • Educate yourself about the websites, software, games, and apps that your child uses.
  • Check their social media and gaming profiles and posts. Have conversations about what is appropriate to say or share.
  • Explain to your kids that once images or comments are posted online they can be shared with anyone and never truly disappear.
  • Make sure your kids use privacy settings to restrict access to their online profiles.
  • Tell your children to be extremely wary when communicating with anyone online who they do not know in real life.
  • Encourage kids to choose appropriate screen names and to create strong passwords.
  • Make it a rule with your kids that they can’t arrange to meet up with someone they met online without your knowledge and supervision.
  • Stress to your children that making any kind of threat online—even if they think it’s a joke—is a crime.
  • Report any inappropriate contact between an adult and your child to law enforcement immediately. Notify the site they were using, too.