Online predatorsOver the years of speaking to parents on Internet safety I have had the unfortunate opportunity of hearing stories of kids getting prayed upon by online predators. The stories start innocently enough with their child playing a game online or chatting on a kid oriented website. These kids meet a new “friend” who really takes an interest in them. They seem to like a lot of the same things and share similar problems. Online predators try to find ways to gain their victims trust and to build a close bond with them.

Parents the stats are not in your favor:

– 1 in 33 youth received an aggressive sexual solicitation in the past year.

– Only about 25% of children who encountered a sexual approach or solicitation told a parent or adult.

One mom I spoke with told me how her 11 year old daughter started chatting online on a very popular teen stars website. Her daughter adored this TV star and singer and most of her fans were “tweens” and early teens so mom never even thought about there being a safety issue. As weeks passed it seemed her daughter could hardly wait to get on the computer to chat with her new “friends” on this website. Mom was a little concerned about the amount of time her daughter was now spending online but she seemed to really be enjoying herself so she let it go.

As weeks turned into months her daughter’s demeanor started to turn dark. She seemed depressed and more moody. At first the mom was not making the connection between her daughter’s change in personality and her time spent online. Her daughter would say little when asked what was wrong. Light bulbs started to come on when her daughter started asking her very strange questions about sex. She could tell her daughter was trying to tell her something but was having a difficult time so mom started to probe. She started asking where these questions were coming from and what brought them up. When mom asked if someone was talking to her about sex online her daughter opened up and told her everything. In brief she had been groomed by men on this “kid friendly” website and had been having cyber-sex with them in the chat rooms. They taught her about all kinds of sexual things so she would have the “skills” to have sex talks with these predators online.

The mother was in complete shock by what she heard. She told me these predators stole her 11-year-old daughter’s innocence and they did it right under her nose. Her daughter was so mentally distraught that she had to go into therapy. It was a very hard story to hear and I was devastated for what had happened to this girl and her family.

Parents, online predators are very real and just because a website is for kids doesn’t mean just kids hang out there. Online predators often hang out where kids do. Know whom your kids are communicating with online and watch out for warning signs like your kids withdrawing from their real friends, changes in their personality and excessive time spent online. Prevention is better than therapy.