Hickey Family Foundation is a sponsor of Sonoran Living.
Do your kids play Fortnite, Roblox or Minecraft? Are they using social media apps like Instagram or SnapChat? Do you know their usernames and passwords?
Kids are more computer savvy than most parents these days. It's how they communicate with most of their friends. But a lot of kids have more than one account they use with their social media apps. They know the apps to use to hide their fake accounts. They have too much freedom and autonomy -- and that's where the trouble starts.
We need to be able to talk to our kids about the risks of chatting online. We must impress on them that sharing personal information with strangers is dangerous and that information they give can be used against them. An online predator will "groom" someone through chats and will say everything the kid wants to hear to get what they want -- personal information, usernames, passwords, nude pictures and/or videos. Predators know the popular games, popular chat apps and know what kids want to hear. When the victim (your kid?) decides to stop engaging with the predator, the predator will threaten to blast all of the images and videos he has collected to the victim's family and friends. If it has not happened to one of your kids, your kids likely already know someone it's happened to.
If our kids are not comfortable to come to an adult when this happens to them, things will only get worse. As parents, talking to our kids about chatting with strangers and not sharing information or sharing nude images/videos is paramount. We must talk to them about sexting and sextortion including what the consequences are and it can't be sugar coated. Let them know that if this happens to them, it's ok to come to you and tell you what is happening. And if something like this is happening to one of their friends, they need to speak up and tell an adult.
Parents must become familiar with their kids' phones. Do spot checks and look through the phone and all the apps. Become familiar with the parental controls on phones and gaming consoles.
Remember, if your kids pitch a fit about this, remind them that having a phone is a privilege, not a right - and that privilege can be taken away.
We're not telling you to not let your kids use chat apps or to tell them to stop gaming. That's unrealistic. Many of these issues can be thwarted by just having a real conversation with them about what can happen. It may not stop them from making a bad decision, but they will know they can come to you for help.
Culture Reframed - www.culturereframed.org
Nation Human Trafficking Hotline - 1-888-373-7888; humantraffickinghotline.org
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children - 1-800-THE-LOST; www.missingkids.org
Shared Hope International - sharedhope.org