7 Tips For Protecting Your Child From Traffickers Online

Social Media has become a daily part of most people lives, it is how we interact with our friends and family, find local events, and even sell things. You may have even been directed to this article via a social media site. Social media was designed to create community and close the distance between loved ones, all of which are good things! However, there is a population of people out in the world that use social media and gaming apps as a hunting ground for vulnerable victims that they can lure into the sex trade.

Traffickers monitor all kinds of sites looking for a vulnerability they can exploit, especially in young people. Data shows that the time teens spend on screens has increased to an average just over 8 and a half hours outside of time spent doing school work [source]. Meaning they are online at a much higher rate than they have been historically, allowing predators to lure them from the comfort of their living room couches.

When a post is made complaining about parents or how miserable school is not only does it attract sympathy from friends, but it also attracts predators looking to swoop in and prey on those vulnerabilities. Statements such as “school is the worst” or “I hate my parents” creates space for a predator to connect, relate, and solve a problem. Others may send hundreds of messages out per day to young people, just looking for a few to bite. These messages may compliment the young person or ask for help.

In 2020 of the cases prosecuted federally, 59% of the victims were lured off Facebook [source]. 54% of teens reported that if their parents knew what they were doing online they would likely be much more worried [source]. While 14% report that their friends have invited someone they met online to their home [source].

Here are sevens ways to protect your teen on social media:

1. Turn Off Location Services– Apps may individually have a location service and be sharing your teen’s location without them knowing. Explain the risk of having this setting turned on and make sure you go into the settings of each app together and confirm all location settings are off.

2. Anything Posted Online Lasts Forever- Most teens believe when they hit the delete button that post, picture, or video is gone forever. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Educate your teen on choosing their words and images wisely before hitting post. If something explicit already exists online, you can work with the platform directly to have it removed. Learn how here.

3. Monitor Your Teens Accounts- This is a hard task for two reasons, first we understand that as teens grow and become more independent, they do not want mom and dad seeing everything. Set some ground rules that if they are going to have an account, they must be friends with you, cannot block you and you must know the password. Check their phone occasionally, to reassure this has not changed.

The second reason this is difficult is because as technology is ever changing and new apps are appearing daily you will have to create the time to learn the new apps your teen wants to use. If it means protecting your child it is worth the time, effort and frustration associated with learning new technology.

4. Turn On “Find My Friends” – Through this service your teen’s location can be shared with you in real time. Make sure your teen hasn’t downloaded a “spoofer” app which will trick you into believing they are in one location when they really are elsewhere. Learn how to set this up here.

5. Online Friends vs. Real Friends –Traffickers will see a vulnerability and then make contact usually leading with a compliment of some kind. It is vital to teach your teen about the fact that predators exist online, and they may request to be their friend or follow them, and they will most often appear safe. Most teens do not have 1,000+ true friends. Teach your teen to only friend people they actually know. Periodically look through the list of “friends” to look for strangers and delete as necessary.

6. Settings to Adjust – Using the family sharing “screen time for family” feature allows you to block or limit specific apps on your child’s Apple devices. Similar options are available for Google devices under Google Play. Adjusting the parental control settings on your wireless router is another way to protect your child online. Lastly utilizing a Virtual Private Network (VPN) on all devices creates a safer, more secure, and private online environment.

7. Apps to Download – We recommend two apps, Life 360 and Bark. Life 360 is a location sharing app and BARK is a parental monitoring app both were very well created, are user friendly and provide valuable information.

Technology will continue to evolve over time and with every enticing new app put out into the world there are more opportunities created for predators to reach your child. Take a proactive approach to protect your teen!