“Human trafficking is a heinous crime happening all around us. The victims—30% of which are children—are subject to forced labor, sexual exploitation, and other forms of abuse. We must do more to bring criminals to justice, and help victims rebuild their lives.”̶António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations
One of the most heartbreaking realities of human trafficking is just how many cases involve children. Kids are easy to manipulate, and predators will use whatever means necessary to obtain prey, including threatening, lying, even building a relationship to establish trust only to take advantage later. The fact that our innocent children could be a predator’s target is unsettling, but hopefully, the following tips help you feel empowered as you seek to protect your kids from predators.
Implement Safety Measures
If your family doesn’t currently have an internet monitoring service set up, now is a good time to implement that. “Closing off” unsavory corners of the internet is a good start to protecting your teens from predators. You could also come up with a secret code that your child can text you if they’re ever in trouble or uncomfortable. Let them know they can text you the code any time and make it easy yet unique.
Additionally, make sure your kids know not to text back unknown numbers or click links, and emphasize that virtual communication like texting, chatting, and video calling are only for friends and family, not strangers or acquaintances.
While setting up filters and safeguards on your kids’ laptops, tablets, and phones can help protect them from online predators, it’s important to also teach your kids how to be on guard and keep themselves safe. You don’t want your child to live in fear, but you do need to open their eyes to the fact that not everyone has their best interest at heart.
Awareness is particularly important for teens. Unfortunately, teens tend to be overconfident and naïve. According to GCFglobal.org, “Teens are generally more at risk from predators. Because they are curious and want to be accepted, they may talk to a predator willingly, even if they know it’s dangerous. Sometimes teens may believe they are in love with someone online, making them more likely to agree to a face-to-face meeting.”
Encourage your teen to keep their social media profiles professional (i.e. “Don’t post anything you wouldn’t want your teacher to read/see!”) Make sure they know not to reply to spam messages (show them examples of spam messages so that they understand how realistic they can sometimes sound.) And guide them through practice scenarios if possible (i.e. “If your friend’s dad messaged you what would you do?”
If you’re finding it difficult to talk with your teen, try simply asking questions and inviting them to ask questions too. Having an ongoing dialogue can be more meaningful and helpful than a lecture. You can also check out resources like these videos that help you educate your kids about the dangers of predators in an age-appropriate way.
Use Caution When It Comes to Sleepovers, Playdates, Etc.
While things like sleepovers and spending time at a friend’s house can seem harmless, the sad reality is that children are sometimes targeted by relatives and friends. Again, you don’t have to live in fear, but you do need to exercise caution.
Try to keep interactions with acquaintances on your own turf or in public if possible. Offer to host sleepovers at your house or take the gang out to eat vs. hanging out at someone’s house. Make sure your kids know what to do if they ever find themselves in a situation that makes them feel uncomfortable. If your child must be with another family you don’t know very well, encourage them to stick with the group vs. going off one-on-one with people. And of course, if they ever feel uncomfortable or like something was “off,” reassure them that you’ve got their back.
They need to know they can always tell you what happened, no matter what. Sometimes parents hesitate to put restrictions on their kids’ lives because they don’t want to be seen as “the bad guy.” But remember, you have your child’s best interest at heart. Predators and traffickers don’t. Being a “cool” parent isn’t nearly as important as keeping your kids safe. And when they’re grown, your kids will more than likely be grateful for the protective measures you took with them when they were younger.
Sometimes parents hesitate to put restrictions on their kids’ lives because they don’t want to be seen as “the bad guy.” But remember, you have your child’s best interest at heart. Predators and traffickers don’t. Being a “cool” parent isn’t nearly as important as keeping your kids safe. And when they’re grown, your kids will more than likely be grateful for the protective measures you took with them when they were younger.