It’s perfectly understandable for parents and caretakers to want to keep their children safe. While the media shows us horrific stories of what can happen to children every night, the sunniest optimist can’t deny that children are vulnerable and need to be protected.
But what can you do to protect your child? Especially in a world that is so digitally integrated? Let’s take a look at some ways you can help yourself and your child stay safe.
Maintain Control of Social Media
While you may think this will only pertain to what your child does on social media, this is also about your accounts. If all of your posts are public, anyone can access this information. It only takes a few minutes on most platforms to search out someone nearby and go through their content. They could learn what your children look like, their names, activities, locations, and find out inside family information all in a scroll.
Instead, make sure your private content is private. Opening a second Instagram account to showcase your hobby or keep up with your friends is easy to do. This can be helpful in the present, but also in the future. Imagine someone 15 years from now Googling your child after a job interview and finding pictures of them in their underwear as a toddler. Remember: If it’s accessible on the internet that means anyone can access it.
Give Your Children a Voice Without Shame
Very early on, children can pick up on guilt, shame, and taboos surrounding the human body. If there is someone in their life who is grooming them for exploitation, they are probably told it is their own fault, they deserve this, and there’s nothing they can do. This makes it all less likely children will speak up and tell a parent or authority figure what’s happening. At the same time, a young child might not realize what is happening to them or that it shouldn’t be taking place.
Instead, encourage children to discuss their day and talk with them about things that are confusing for them and how to deal with uncomfortable feelings in an age-appropriate way. If they start to describe abuse or grooming, listen, and ask questions to clarify. Reacting with anger towards the child or disbelief will only assure them you are not a safe person to talk to.
Teach Children Proper Names for their Body Parts
Children have a limited vocabulary and depending on the phase of their development, they might not be able to describe sexual abuse or grooming behaviors to you. However, teaching them the correct name for their body parts and others’ can help give them a way to communicate if something is happening to them.
Although this might be an awkward conversation or could result in some out-of-context comments from your child, it’s vital that children have the language needed to talk about their bodies and what is happening to them. It also helps to push back against the societal shame surrounding the human body and its private areas.
Ensure Teenagers Know Good Internet Safety
It’s not just the little kids you have to worry about, unfortunately. Teenagers generally have more mobility and can be trafficked through popular websites or apps. While the internet can develop connections through people across all boundaries, it also can be used by those with nefarious purposes.
Although the last thing a teenager wants to listen to is an internet safety lecture, it’s important to talk to them about the internet and how people can use it to appear to be someone else. Starting young and monitoring their usage is a good way to know who they are talking to. Also, sometimes simply giving examples of what scammers might try is a good way to get them to think critically about emails and DMs.
For example, a common trafficking scam is someone contacting a teenager for a “modeling job” and asking them to meet them at a location alone in order to discuss details. Even if this exact ruse isn’t used, a teenager might be able to see through a different attempt to get them to go somewhere alone to meet someone they don’t know.
Teach Your Children About Consent and Appropriate Touching
This is also a conversation no one wants to have with their kids, but it’s vital that children know what is inappropriate and what recourse they can take if something happens to them. It also helps build autonomy for children. They should be taught that they are in charge of their bodies and no one has permission to touch them without their consent.
It’s important to have this conversation with children because parents never know what children are picking up on playgrounds or what their friends’ experiences have been. This makes sure kids are on the same page as parents when it comes to appropriate behavior and there can be open conversation throughout their childhood and adolescence.
These are just some of the ways you can help keep your child safe. It’s important to remember that all children are individuals and what drives a point home with one child might not help another. While the United States continues to become safer, there is still a need to help children prepare for situations they might encounter.