My daughter recently learned the word “b*tch” from a stranger named John.
Around 50,000 sexual predators are trolling the internet each day looking for a way to connect with our children. My kids were playing the popular video game Clash of Clans recently when a player named “John” requested to join their “clan,” or chat group. I had no idea that Clash of Clans had a chat feature. Not that my kids were being sneaky, they weren’t. This was a free game and I gave them permission to download it and play it on the iPad. Then they discovered the chat feature and started inviting friends and receiving requests…and that’s when “John” showed up. When they denied “John” access, he sent a follow-up message calling one of the girls in the clan a “b*tch”. They freaked out.
This is when our kids brought the game to us and told us about the chat room. Then it was my turn to freak out. Our daughter is twelve, and her brother is ten, and they have no idea how social media and online dialog can cause so much damage and embarrassment. (I do, however, because I see people act like idiots on Facebook and Twitter all the time, saying things that they’d never say to another human being in person…things that they can’t get back.)
But even beyond the damage and embarrassment factor, there’s the greater risk of victimization by an online sexual predator. There are over 700,000 registered sex offenders in the United States, and many repeat offenders are using chat rooms and social media to groom children. What’s grooming?
“Grooming is a method of building trust with a child and adults around the child in an effort to gain access to and time alone with her/him. However, in extreme cases, offenders may use threats and physical force to sexually assault or abuse a child. More common, though, are subtle approaches designed to build relationships with families. The offender may assume a caring role, befriend the child, or even exploit their position of trust and authority to groom the child and/or the child’s family. These individuals intentionally build relationships with the adults around a child or seek out a child who may have fewer adults in her/his life. This increases the likelihood that the offender’s time with the child is welcomed and encouraged.” – The U.S. Department of Justice
I’m green (and still a bit freaked out) when it comes to parenting through this new social media world. As parents we need to know what games our children are playing, who they are chatting with, and what they’re uploading. There’s no way that a 10, 12, or 14-year old can know how shark infested these waters are that they are wading into. But we parents can. And they need us to protect them and teach them how to swim carefully.