Katie is a twelve-year-old girl. Her family seems normal from the outside but at home there is your typical dysfunction. Dad drinks a little too much and is too focused on the stresses of work, mom doesn’t seem to have the time of day for anything other than her latest diet craze and her flashy new job. Katie doesn’t have a lot of friends, she is a fair student, not athletic in the slightest and can’t even remember the last time a boy talked to her. After school each day she finds her oasis online, where thousands of kids exist just like her… almost unnoticeable by the real world.
Katie’s profiles aren’t monitored by her parents, she isn’t even sure they realize she is using social media. Why would they, they barely notice if she is in the house. She posts frequently about how alone she feels and finds comfort that in this space others feel the same. One afternoon Katie notices a notification for a comment on her Instagram from quite possibly the most attractive guy she has ever seen. She is floored when she sees that he has called her pretty… her! Over time these subtle comments back and forth move from harmless Instagram comments to her Facebook Messenger app, now they are chatting anytime she can sneak her phone in class and not get caught. He wants to meet, she is terrified that he may not like her once he sees her in person and he may realize she is much younger than him, but she agrees.
Their meeting is easy enough to coordinate without her parents knowing. They are both at work and unaware that she hasn’t come home from school yet. It is easy enough to make sure she has snuck into her room before they do. He could not be sweeter to her, exactly how he treated her online, calling her pretty, buying her things. Katie cannot believe how good it feels to be noticed, she’d do anything to keep this feeling! It isn’t long before this seemingly innocent romance takes a turn that will forever traumatize Katie and her family.
Basic Online Indicators
While Katie’s story is fictional it isn’t far off from the reality that happens all too often. There were multiple indicators that seemed innocent and harmless especially to an unknowing twelve-year-old. However these may actually be a luring technique used by an all too skilled predator.
Indicator #1: Freedom to have and use online profiles without boundaries or monitoring.
Indicator #2: Feeling safe enough to post about personal feelings. This opens a window of vulnerability for a predator to step in. In Katie’s situation her posting about feeling lonely allowed her predator to fill that gap and make her feel wanted.
Indicator #3: Conversation moving from a public facing platform (i.e.: Instagram Comment) to a private one (i.e.: Facebook Messenger). Creating an opportunity for an in-person meeting to be arranged without anyone being the wiser.
Protect Your Children:
Parents we cannot expect a twelve-year-old to know how dangerous online activity can be if we don’t teach them. We also cannot expect them to follow the rules even if it is for their safety. So be aware and utilize a few strategies to protect your child:
- Know what your child is doing online. Be their friend, know their passwords.
- Set boundaries for their online activity. Privacy locks on, location activity off, try to limit activity to when you are in the present.
- Teach your child to communicate their feelings with you or a trusted mentor and the dangers in voicing these feelings online.
- Create self-esteem in your child, invest in them.
Social Media was created for families and friends to connect and stay in touch. However, like any good thing evil will find its way in. Predators are using it as a hunting ground for the vulnerable. Protect your children.