Online Predators and Groomers: Who is Talking to My Child?

When children clamor to get their hands on their parents’ cell phones, iPads, and laptops, they are associating technology with fun!  Beside games, videos, and school experiences, the Internet is not viewed by most children as harmful.  The harm begins, perhaps, with a lunchtime conversation about an app that features watching or creating humorous videos. Even the name TikTok offers a quirky, creative, innocence!  Similar to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and Snapchat, the minimum requirement to create an account without age verification is 13. All it takes to join is to falsify a birth year.  The secret site leads to more significant exposure than just sexual lyrics, suggestive dancing, revealing clothing, and bad language; in a study, even strangers liked every one of the same videos!

Privacy Settings

Every account holder needs a means of protection—a shield to prevent outsiders and unwelcome visitors from entering. Children need to be aware of the purpose of privacy settings. New accounts are first established as “public” by default, implying that anyone can access all private information, send, and receive direct messages.   A child who is ten may think a 13-year-old is old enough to create an account.  According to research, roughly two million 12- to 15-year-old users listed phone and e-mail information publicly.

What is an Online Groomer?

How much information would your child expose online?  Would your daughter or son mention a parent’s name, school, teachers, or local sports teams?  Do you think a stranger could extract personal details, such as a street name, house number, or an access code to the home?  Predators are predominately married men with children who are upstanding professionals within the community; yet, leading a secret life online.  From the beginning, the interaction between your child and an adult will seem harmless.  Predators will create an emotional connection through trust.  They will try and relate to the child’s hobbies or interests.  In time, the groomer may use sexually explicit conversations to test boundaries and seek information to determine a child’s curiosity about intimacy.  Through some form of blackmail, perhaps by means of something written or a picture, the child will agree to an in-person meeting.

Questioning the Safety of Apps

Almost 90% of sexual advances towards children occur either through instant messaging or a chat room.  What parent would want to imagine the lengths a predator will go to bully, sexually harass, or stalk a child online?

Learn more about a few sites frequented by children and teens!

  1. Afm: Ask any question anonymously. As a result, the answers may include vulgar or offensive comments.
  2. Houseparty: As one form of video-conferencing, the “app” allows up to eight people to communicate through texts or face-time. Users can take screenshots and send links through chat threads.
  3. KiK Messenger: A free instant messaging and social networking app that allows users to exchange messages, photos, videos, and sketches.
  4. Tinder: A popular site for tweens and teens connected through a GPS location tracker. Similar to Instagram, users can post photos and initiate open and private conversations.
  5. Omegle: A video-chatting application intended for adults that partners random strangers from across the globe. Although anonymous, the two parties can send and receive texts. The “recommended” age is 18, with no program to verify age.
  6. Periscope: Users 13 and older can upload live videos. All profile information, which includes a profile picture, biography, location, and e-mail address, is public.
  7. Tumblr: To avoiding running into parents, teens frequent the microblogging platform Tumblr. All posts and photos are public with no means to establish privacy settings.
  8. Whisper: Intended for 15-year-olds and older, the app allows the user to make an anonymous confession; however, it does include a GPS location tracker.

All eight apps LACK internal monitoring controls!

A Child’s Secret Life Online

By the time a child reaches the age of six, he or she can successfully navigate a website.  And, what better place to peruse YouTube videos or Instagram than in the comfort of a bedroom?  Parents can easily block any potential technological secrecy by asking children not to use their laptops or iPads in seclusion, but openly at the kitchen table.  If the parent(s) eliminate(s) privacy while online, children will learn to abide by safety rules, learn about privacy settings, and begin to view the Internet as a helpful, but dangerous place!


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