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Protecting kids from digital predators

As adults we take the internet for granted. The quick connection to the rest of the world and the volumes of data at our fingertips is a way of life, and something we can control. But for kids and teenagers, it's part of a larger world where they're still trying to find where they fit in. There are likely to be missteps and mistakes in that process, and our kids need to know what to do when something inappropriate happens.

Sexting, bullying and stalking are all serious matters that can start with a discreet and seemingly harmless digital message. It's important that kids know the dangers at bay and how to confidently deal with them. Honesty and open communication are central to developing a trust network so you can act when necessary. Sadly, studies show that one in five children will receive some kind of online solicitation.

Establishing communication

In the unfortunate situation that your child is a victim, they need to know how to talk about it. This is for psychological support and, potentially, for criminal charges as well. The best ways to establish a bond with your children over their devices is to make sure that boundaries and roles are set.

Children are most comfortable bringing a concern to parents when it's familiar territory. The nature of predatory crimes is new terrain for everyone involved, but letting your children know that you are available and ready to non-judgmentally help if something occurs is paramount. Begin the discussion before they bring it to you. Let them know that, should a message be received, you're there to help.

It's a possession

Though we didn't grow up with Wi-Fi in hand, children today have used connected devices almost since birth. At an early age, instill reminders that devices are possessions and can be taken away, broken and lost. Although the flow of digital information seems endless, it's a controllable element.

Open dialogue

In setting ground rules, you will open a dialogue about the internet and its many uses. Maintain a free flowing conversation throughout your children's upbringing that continues the dialogue. Use devices as a connection between child and parent, something you can discuss the same as "what did you do in school today" or "how is your best friend doing." Give flex to your children's usage while reminding that you hold authority.

Set examples

A significant factor of device usage (and all parenting) is setting a good example. Don't just give your children rules for internet usage, but follow them yourself. If you say one thing and do another, they will notice and this hurts your ability to discuss it openly.

If something happens to your children

Every parent fears the discussion, which is why your kids need to know they can come to you right away. Any problem is easier to fix when it's addressed at the start. Whether it's something your child receives or something that was sent, behave with a sympathetic and problem solving focus. Make sure your child is safe and secure, then address specific issues from the communication.

While solicitation is the most publicized danger, children are commonly bullied by peers or receive inappropriate texts and photos of a sexual nature from others their age. Make certain they know that possession of photographs of minors is illegal and, if your child feels uncomfortable in any way, remember that the law is there to help.

Being a kid is hard. The world is so big and beyond their grasp, and teenagers and pre-teens have yet to find their place even as they have a foot and an online persona already in the door. Understanding their circumstances and point of view is essential in dealing with adult problems that sometimes force themselves onto pre-adults.

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