Child predators use a number of methods to attempt to contact children. There is not one single method they use that you can look out for. For this reason, it is important to be aware of the many different methods they are have been identified as using to locate unsuspecting children or teens and start a dialogue with them. The intention is to get the child or teen to go much further, whether it is getting them to meet in person or engaging online or on the phone in sexual activity of some kind.
Children and Teens that are More Vulnerable to Predators
No child or teen should be considered “predator-proof” but there are some circumstances that tend to make them more susceptible to the ploys of online predators. These include:
- New to being online and unfamiliar with how to act when on the internet
- Those looking for affection or attention
- Rebellious children or teens that want to act out against parents
- Children or teens that are lonely or isolated
- Children that are picked on at home or school
- Children that may be confused about their sexual identities
- Children that are very trusting of adults in general
- Curious children that have questions that are not getting addressed or answered
These are not the only children that can be the victim of a predator. Even children that are from loving families that seem to have everything they need can be targeted but the predators tend to look for the ones that fit the criteria above because they are easier to strike up conversations with.
Common Methods Online Predators Use to Contact Children
One of the best defenses you have as a parent is knowledge. Knowing the common methods that an online predator uses can help you spot problems early on BEFORE they are able to strike up a dialogue with your child. These methods can include:
- Most often online predators will find children and teens through social networking sites, instant messaging, chat rooms, blogs and other websites. In many cases, if the child or teen has a profile, they will have already studied the profile before attempting to contact them.
- Online predators are very good at luring their targets by providing something they feel they are not getting. Subtle manipulations can happen very easily if the child is lacking or craving attention, affection, compliments, kindness, encouragement and sometimes even tangible gifts or money. These acts can cause the children or teens to lose their awareness and can help the predator gain a lot of ground. The use of manipulations of this kind is also known as grooming. The predator may take weeks to achieve this goal so don’t fall into the trap of thinking it happens overnight or they move on. A determined predator will invest weeks and months to get to their target.
- A large number of predators will make sure that they are up on the latest hobbies, fashion, trends, famous online personalities, music and more. Doing this gives them something to talk to the children about and makes them seem “cool”. In many cases, the predator may be posing as someone much younger and will use this knowledge to play the part of a kid accurately.
- Another common ploy that is used by online predators is to look for children that are emotionally vulnerable. This could be because of problems at home or school that are causing the child to feel sad, confused, and emotionally needy. By sympathizing with the child and being a “shoulder to cry on” they can gain the trust of the child, many times positioning themselves as the only ones who understand what the child is going through. The predator will use this vulnerability to build a fake friendship with the child.
- One thing that will be prevalent in the conversations with a predator is the presence of sexual content of some kind. It won’t always start in the very beginning and can be very gradual so the child may even be unaware of it until it is too late. Other times the predator may start off immediately with sexual content and conversation. This content can come in the form of showing the child explicit sexual material or photos and could also involve sexual conversations. Many try to get the children to send photos of themselves without clothing. By doing it gradually, they can make the child feel it is acceptable to listen or engage back.
- Fear is a common method predators use to keep their victims afraid to let anyone know what is going on. If the child tries to stop communicating with them they will threaten the child, usually by stating that they will inform the child’s parents of what they have been doing and saying. Most children are afraid of getting into trouble so this is a very effective means that predators will use to keep them quiet and keep them doing what they want.
Signs That Your Child is Being Targeted
One of the most important things you can do to minimize the chances of your child being the target of an online predator is to be involved in your child’s online activity on a daily basis. There are some signs that you can look for that will alert you to the possibility that your child is being targeted. If you notice any of these things, you need to immediately investigate further and not simply accept the child’s explanation.
- You child spends a lot of time online – Most children that are victims of online predators spend an excessive amount of time online, especially in chat rooms or instant messaging. If you notice an increase in your child’s online time, investigate.
- You find pornography websites in the browse history of their computer, cell phone, laptop, or tablet. Pornography sites can be accessed from any of these places, so you will need to check the browsing history to see what kind of sites they are visiting. Predators use pornography to victimize children and teens by sending them explicit sites, photos, and more. They can also use pornography sites to lead the child to believe that sex with adults is normal and okay. It is unlikely that the child will openly look up pornography sites and they will more than likely hide photos that the predator may send.
- In many child predator situations, the predator will try to get the child on the phone for phone sex or sexting or to set up a meeting in person. If your child receives calls that you do not recognize, it is important to check into those numbers. This is especially important as your child gets older and becomes a teen. Some child predators get 800 numbers for themselves so the child can call without their parents finding out. In other cases, the child was instructed how to call collect. Once the child calls collect, the predator will have the phone number on their Caller ID.
- Predators will often send their victims photographs, letters, and gifts to the child to “soften” them up and get on their good side. Children can be swayed easily by gifts or even promises of gifts; especially if it is something they really want or have been told by their parents that they can’t have. Some online child predators have even been reported as sending airline tickets to a child or teen.
- If your child suddenly becomes very secretive or they withdraw from family and friends, this is a big red flag. Predators will work to put a wedge in place between the child and their families so they can get closer to the child. Many children that are being victimized will become extremely depressed and sad; they may have nightmares, or become very fearful or angry. If you notice ANY kind of significant change in your child or teen’s behavior, investigate.
- If you notice that your child changes the tab they are looking at or changes passwords to their accounts without your knowledge, this is also a red flag that should be looked into further. Any kind of suspicious behavior needs to be looked into and treated as serious…period.
- Even if your child doesn’t have a computer, cell phone, tablet or laptop of their own, their friends might and they can still encounter an online predator. Although you won’t be able to monitor their friends’ computers, you can ask questions to see what kinds of activities they are engaging in. If anything is suspicious, look into it further. Sometimes a predator will help a child set up an online account that they can communicate on so it pays to be very aware of what your child is doing whenever they are online.
The above signs and information is not all-inclusive. Online predators do not have a rule book, but they do tend to use similar methods since those are the methods that routinely work. This information is a start and gives you a place to begin so you can become aware of all of your child’s internet behaviors and activities.