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CCR: Children Need Supervision and Guidance to Keep them Safe Online

by HOLLI FISHER 

Holli Fisher is a licensed professional counselor who serves as division director for Family Services of Northeast Wisconsin. Her organization is a member of the Door County Coordinated Community Response (CCR) to Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Teams, and the Door County Elder and Adult-at-Risk Interdisciplinary Team.

At the Sexual Assault Center of Family Services, we have seen an increase in the use of technology to facilitate sex crimes against children. With these types of crimes – known as Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) – online predators seek unsupervised contact with potential underage victims. 

With technology available to children at younger ages, it’s essential that caregivers are aware of what children are accessing on their devices. Conversations about technology also need to start early; expectations should be communicated; and frequent conversations regarding technology safety should be adapted for the child’s developmental level. 

Caregivers should be specific about what’s off limits online and what they consider to be unacceptable behavior. 

For instance, when young children start using technology, they should be closely supervised. Restricting the device to certain sites or apps is recommended so that caregivers can be sure the content is age appropriate. 

Caregivers can also block outgoing content using parental controls: software that prevents kids from sharing personal information online. It’s also a good idea to set a password on devices so that apps can’t be downloaded without it and in-app purchases are disabled. Software is also available to limit kids’ time online and even set the time of day when they can access the internet. 

As children get older and gain more independence, they still need guidance to help them exercise good judgment about online safety. 

Caregivers can review their child’s friends list on social-media sites and suggest that they limit online “friends” to people they actually know. There is also monitoring software that alerts caregivers to online activity without blocking access. This information can be used to initiate productive conversations about what is acceptable, safe online behavior. 

As children reach teenhood, they may be curious about “sexting”: the act of sending or forwarding sexually explicit photos, videos or messages. Minors could face legal consequences for creating, forwarding or saving this kind of content. 

Sexting is also linked to “sextortion,” the practice of extorting money, sexual favors or additional sexually explicit content by threatening to reveal photos, videos or messages that the extorter already has. 

Caregivers should also educate children about the signs of online “grooming”: when someone uses the internet to trick, force or pressure a young person into doing something sexual. The groomer usually makes an emotional connection and builds trust with the victim before making a sexual request. 

Signs of grooming include asking the victim to start chatting on a different platform or app (that the caregiver is usually unaware of), asking the child to keep the conversations secret, requesting personal information, and sending subtle sexual messages, such as commenting on the child’s body or asking whether the child has ever kissed anyone. Groomers are very persuasive, so it’s important to teach children to tell a trusted adult if something doesn’t feel right. 

These general technology safety tips can help caregivers:

• Check devices that are connected to the Wi-Fi to know who and which devices are being connected.

• Devices should not be used behind closed doors or late at night. Maintain an open-door policy, and put devices in the kitchen at night to be charged.

• Consistency is key! Children need to hear information repeated, in small doses, for it to sink in.

• Learn more from these recommended caregiver resources: protectyoungeyes.com, commonsensemedia.org and IAmCyberSafe.org/Parents.