Every day in my email I read about teens who are lured into relationships with predators posing as teens in chatrooms. Sometimes the teens are talking into sending sexually explicit pictures of themselves to the “teen friend” who promises that the picture is just for him/her.
Of course, that is rarely, if ever, the case. The pictures are received and then shared with other predators on the internet, often on the “dark web.” The teen is then blackmailed into sending more and more pictures as the predator threatens to forward pictures to the teen’s parents and friends if the teen doesn’t comply. The teen is caught in a no-win situation, at times ending in suicide as the teen sees no other alternative. And once a picture is on the web, even if deleted, it is there forever!
In the case above, the teen’s relationship is through the computer chat room but does not get to the next level of meeting the “teen friend” at the mall, park, restaurant, etc. As we know, teens are very vulnerable and easily influenced by others. Some of these online relationships do get to the next level and the teen secretly meets the person on the other end of the line. When this happens, the teen is in danger of being taken and forced into trafficking or groomed to agree to participate “willingly.” This is a very dangerous situation for these teens.
As parents, teachers, relatives, and friends, how can we protect our vulnerable youth from falling into this trap? The first thing we must do is to educate ourselves on how to talk with our youth in an intelligent, clear, and nonjudgmental way. Then, we must take the time to talk with them and listen to them on a regular basis. It is important for parents and schools to use filtering and monitoring software and tools on all devices to which children and teens have access. There are numerous software programs (like this one) out there to help adults keep children safe.
Please do your part and educate others on how they can protect our precious youth from predators.