As families work to respond to COVID-19, many parents are feeling anxious, overwhelmed, and afraid. Parental guilt is high as parents are trying to balance work and childcare and facilitate online learning. Children and teens are spending more time plugged-in to stay connected to their schoolwork and their friends in these physically isolating times. There is no timeline for what is to come. Caregivers are trying to do what is right for their children without the benefit of a road map of what has worked well before.
Taking a moment to think about online safety is not meant to be one more stressor or another item on a lengthy to-do list. Our goal is to make these suggestions as easy and effective as possible. Conducting a short online safety inventory helps to see areas to build skills while laying a foundation for family discussions and response to online dangers now, and in the future.
Offenders need three things to be able to groom or seduce their child target: time, access, and interpersonal skill (Lanning, 2010). When thinking about prevention, those three main points are a good place to do an initial inventory of online safety skills.
Does my child have breaks from online time to also live unplugged?
Could we make a list of technology-free activities and encourage a certain number to try each day?
How can we model moments of connection? Does our family take time together to unplug and check-in face to face?
Have we established guidelines on which apps and websites are off limits? Are the kids involved and invested in the reasoning behind these decisions?
Does my child know that most people do use the internet well, but that there are people who don’t know the rules? Do they know to watch out for people who may seem too good to be true or those who make them uncomfortable?
Are they aware that if they tell you about someone using the internet to harm or cause concern, that you won’t take their access away, but that you will work together to make it safer?
Have we talked about isolating behavior? Healthy friends and adults want to be one of many people who care about you. Unhealthy friends and adults try to separate us from the people who love us. Do your kids know they can come and talk to you if someone is trying to have access to them all the time?
Does my child have good, age-appropriate information about how bodies work? Do they know that if someone does want to talk to them about sex online that is a big warning sign and they should let me know?
Have we talked through “What If” scenarios about online safety concerns so my child has had a chance to do some problem solving and talk through fears?
Does my child/teen have a safety net of five adults that they can talk to if they meet someone who doesn’t know the rules about safety? If any adult or friend, including one on their net, is causing worry or concern, do they know that they can reach out to someone else on their net?
In this time of physical distancing we want to encourage social connection, not social isolation. Help your child reach out to their net of five. In addition to youth creating a net of 5, we ask all adults “Who are the five children in your life that you are a safety net for?” Reach out to those families.
Jacob Wetterling Resource Center wants to do all that we can to support families working through these challenging times. If you would like to talk to an advocate for any reason, including online safety planning, please reach out by calling 800-325-4673.
Lanning, K.V. (2010). Child Molesters: A Behavioral Analysis for Professionals Investigating the Sexual Exploitation of Children. Fifth Edition. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Washington D.C.