I’d like to share with you some advice from the book Protecting Your Children Online: What You Need to Know about Online Threats to Your Children by Kimberly Ann McCabe.
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This book is a comprehensive, well-researched guide to protecting children from Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC). It educates with ample information about the threats, and gives plenty of advice on actions you can take and teach your kids to take.
Even though it’s presented as a typical book that you should read cover-to-cover, it doesn’t flow well that way; it’s somewhat unorganized and quite repetitive, almost like it’s a reference containing standalone sections. It’s also dry and clinical, not engaging.
The author is a parent of two children, and a professor of criminology.
This excerpt summarizes the book:
As with all categories of ICAC, supervision and communication at a very young age are essential for protecting our children. In addition, parents should explain to their children throughout all stages of their development, the fact that individuals attempting to elicit a conversation with them while within the online community may or may not have their best interests in mind. Finally, parents should be mindful of the physical and behavioral indicators displayed by victims of ICAC. … We must now caution our children about online approaches. Friends who attempt to converse with our children within the online community without parental consent, and particularly, friends from the online community who attempt to meet our children are to be avoided and are not really friends.
Because so many of the Internet threats that kids face are sexual, please note that this book and my summary here are for mature readers. Following are my notes from each chapter.
Welcome to Children and Cyberspace
In most cases, children are involved in many online interactions with their abuser prior to abuse/exploitation, and consider them friends.
Among children, teens are the most vulnerable cohort because they’re most likely to be online.
Perpetrators of many ICAC are often young, and can be male or female.
Enticement, Sexual Imposition, Child Solicitation, and Child Pornography
Images of nude or semi-nude teens may be considered child porn, even if received from a willing sender.
Typical behavior of teens involved in viewing or creating child porn
- Appearing withdrawn or depressed
- Being dishonest about computer or phone usage
- Noticing bodies of others
- Tolerating previously ignored sexually graphic movies
- Spending time outside the home
- Locking their door when using computer/phone
- Deleting browsing history
Typical behavior of child victims of sexual abuse
- Problems in school
- Problems with authority
- Comfortable with use of sexual language
- Extremely aggressive or extremely submissive with peers
- Withdrawn from family and friends
- Spend too much time online and alone
- Selective about communications
Sexting is illegal for those under 18, as the images or messages are considered forms of child porn. See Federal PROTECT Act of 2003. However, it’s rare for a minor to be prosecuted for sexting.
Sexting and Sextortion
To increase the chances of your teen taking your advice, have many conversations over many years about safety, teen life, peer relationships.
Make it clear to your children that they can come to you with any problem, and you’ll be willing to help.
Females are more frequently victims of and perpetrators of cyberbullying than males.
Cyberbullies tend to choose victims who suffer from low self-esteem, have academic challenges, and possess mental disabilities (such as inability to be flexible on actions, procedures, rules of play).
To determine your child’s susceptibility to bullying and cyberbullying, ask:
- Is child physically small?
- Is child an introvert?
- Does child have a few friends?
- Is child’s behavior considered unusual by peers?
To help a child to avoid bullying or cyberbullying, help them learn to communicate with and participate in activities with their peers. Don’t immerse yourself in child’s activities; help them develop independence.
If bullying is repeated or prolonged, consider contacting law enforcement. Bullying is illegal in all 50 states.
Cyberstalking support groups: Stalking Resource Center at National Center for Victims of Crime, Working to Halt Online Abuse (WHOA).
What kids should do to reduce risk of cyberstalking
- Protect privacy (e.g., protect physical location, last name).
- Don’t share passwords with boyfriend/girlfriend. If they do, they should change their passwords when relationship ends.
- Don’t accept invitations to converse with strangers.
- Block anyone who acts strangely or aggressively.
- Report to parents any persistent unwanted contact.
How to protect children from cyberstalking
- Tell children to stay off adult dating sites. If you allow them to use teenage dating sites, set rules. Tell them not to reveal personal info (last name, school, church, home address, etc.) until they’ve met person face-to-face.
- Remind children of dangers of cameras on computers. Tell them to cover cameras when not in use.
- Tell children not to accept friend requests from strangers.
- Tell children not to share passwords with anyone other than parents.
- Tell children not to share their physical location or where they plan to be.
- Monitor children’s online presence, periodically check on activities.
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Preparing for the Worst: Sex Rings, Sex Tourism, and Child Trafficking
One reason preteens and teens are more often victims of sex rings, sex tourism, child trafficking is that their parents/guardians monitor them less than they do younger children.
Signs of child being recruited into sex industry
- Adult showing special interest in child, or giving excessive or inappropriate gifts
- Child expressing romantic interest in young adult or middle-aged adult
Signs of child being groomed for sex industry
- Becoming isolated from family and friends they’ve had for years
- Expressing interest in modeling or having their picture taken
- Drug or alcohol use
Signs of child being seasoned for sex industry
- Signs of physical abuse (bruises, burns)
- Signs of sexual abuse (STDs, UTIs)
- Interest in sex ed
- Child answering to names other than their own
- Branding or tattoos on child
Teach kids preventive methods to avoid becoming a victim, and tell them about cases of similar children who have been victims.
Physical indicators of ICAC
- Physical evidence (scrapes, cuts, bruises, blood and other bodily fluids)
- Presence of STD or UTI
- Preoccupation with touching genitals
- Self-abuse (self-mutilation, anorexia, bulimia, suicide attempts)
- Poor hygiene
Majority of cases have no physical indicators, so watch for behavioral indicators.
Behavioral indicators of cyberbullying
- Uncomfortable when receiving messages
- Doesn’t want to attend school or events outside home
- Refuses to share details about online community
- Depression, withdrawal from family and friends, trouble sleeping
- Stress-related symptoms (headaches, stomachaches, weight gain or loss)
- Self harm, suicide threats
Behavioral indicators of cyberstalking
Loss of appetite, anorexia, trouble sleeping, trouble concentrating, thoughts of self-injury.
Behavioral indicators of child corruption
- Poor academic achievement
- Disciplinary problems
- Difficulties with family or peers
- History of family and/or peer violence
- Perception that aggression is normal
- Involvement with alcohol or drugs
- Access to firearms or explosives
- Claim that they’ve been wronged by an individual or group.
Behavioral indicators of sex ring, sex tourism, trafficking
- Reports having multiple boyfriends (or a boyfriend and his friends)
- Has unexplained money
- Fearful of law enforcement and authority
- Often in company of an adult, but rarely speaks for themselves
- Loses track of time
- Gives vague explanations of activities
- Does poorly in school
- Wears provocative clothes
- Uses drugs or alcohol
Strategies from law enforcement
- Talk to your kids about school, friends, safety, life in general.
- Talk to your kids’ friends.
- Be present in your kids’ lives. Know their teachers, know their friends’ parents, attend their games and other extracurriculars.
- Explain about ICAC and related laws.
- Require that you be their friend on social media, that you know their passwords. Monitor online activities.
- Trust but verify. If kid seems different, ask what’s bothering them.
If you suspect child is victim of ICAC, ask them, but don’t blindly accept a denial. Report suspicion to law enforcement or National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
If child is victim of ICAC, cancel or change child’s affected accounts and phone number, and notify mobile providers or ISP (Internet Service Provider).
As the parent, we are legally responsible for our children until they reach the age of eighteen. In addition, we own their cell phones and usually pay for their access to the online community. With those responsibilities and ownership, we have the right to monitor their cell phone and online usage.
Appendix A: Information Sources for Reporting Internet Crimes Against Children
Childhelp, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Department of Social Services, local law enforcement can provide help for child victims.
If you found this summary helpful, then read the book, Protecting Your Children Online: What You Need to Know about Online Threats to Your Children by Kimberly Ann McCabe.
What You Should Do
Here are the top tips I’ve selected from this book.
- Explain to your child about Internet crimes against children, and related laws.
- Make it clear to your child that they can come to you with any problem, and you’ll be willing to help.
- Be present in your child’s life. Talk to them about school, friends, safety, and life in general. Know their friends, their friends’ parents, and their teachers, and attend their games and other extracurricular activities.
- Monitor your child’s online activities. You’ll have to decide how closely to monitor, but at a minimum you should have some awareness of what your kid does online.
- To increase the chances of your preteen or teen taking your advice, have many conversations over many years about safety, teen life, and peer relationships.
- Teach your child how to reduce the risk of cyberstalking. See the tips given earlier in this post.
- Tell your preteen or teen that possessing, sending, or receiving images of nude or semi-nude minors may be considered child porn. It doesn’t matter if the images are taken or sent by a willing minor.
- Watch for signs that your child is a victim of Internet crimes. The signs are described earlier in this post. If your child seems different, ask what’s bothering them.
- If you suspect your child is a victim of Internet crimes, ask them, but don’t blindly accept a denial. Report your suspicion to law enforcement or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
- If your child is a victim of Internet crimes, cancel or change the child’s affected accounts and phone number, and notify the relevant mobile provider and/or ISP (Internet Service Provider).
- If your child is a victim of Internet crimes, consider seeking assistance from Childhelp, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Department of Social Services, and local law enforcement.