There’s one thing that all tweens have in common: They try to act like grownups. That means that they want to go to sleepovers, talk to their friends on the phone, and stay out as long as they can get away with. Another way they attempt to mirror adult behavior is to chat with people using social media.
But here’s the problem: The people that your pre-teen son or daughter may be chatting with may not be one of his or her peers at all. It could actually be an adult posing as a kid online. These individuals may be sitting at home, in their cars, or in cubicles alone somewhere. Sadly, some of these grownups are sexual predators.
It’s natural for a parent to want to protect their children from dangers in cyberspace by banning them from using computers or social media. But kids (especially tweens) will probably find a way to engage in that activity anyway. So the best strategy is to teach them about the hazards of the Internet – so they can have the tools to navigate the Web safely.
The first step for parents is to sit down with their tweens and educate them about what can happen if they aren’t careful. Tell the youngsters that they shouldn’t chat with anyone online that they don’t know in real life. That’s because many people pretend to be someone else while in a chat room (even their profile photo may be a fake). To prevent unwanted conversation, teens should only enter chat rooms that are private and populated by their friends and peers – and should always log off before leaving the website.
Furthermore, parents should spell out for their tweens what types of information should remain private. This includes their home address, phone numbers, and social security number. Criminals can use this information against the tweens and their families, so it should never be given out over the Web – especially in a chat room.
It’s also important for parents to train their tween to look for warning signs of inappropriate activity. This includes overly personal or even obscene language, an offer of expensive gifts, or a request to meet in person. It’s not a bad idea to tell the tween to trust his or her gut; if something feels a little off, then it probably isn’t what it appears to be.
Finally, if this inappropriate chatting occurs when the parent is at home, the tween should leave the screen open and go get the parent immediately. Then the parent should contact the police and give them as much information as possible about the suspicious behavior, chat room participant, or messages.
Statistically speaking, the chances of any given child being victimized by a sexual predator are quite low. But online chat rooms are still a common tactic used by these deviants to lure unsuspecting tweens into their clutches. Protecting your tweens against these monsters requires vigilance and education on your part.
Contributor: Chris Martin is a freelance writer who writes for numerous websites and is also a ghostwriter for several blogs. In addition, he is an accomplished voice actor and an experienced sportscaster. Martin has also worked as a radio DJ, a traffic reporter, and a public address announcer for sporting events.