How can parents stop the dangerous precedence on online problems, especially with regards to sexual images, behaviors, and online predators?
Warning: For those who are victims or who have experienced primary or vicarious trauma, this article may trigger some strong emotions. Getting professional help and counseling is an important way to heal.
Even if an image or video is deleted, it does not completely disappear from your phones. Kids might be more tech savvy than their parents, but the FBI and other task forces, like the Utah Attorney General’s Internet Crime Against Children (ICAC) Task Force, can do a deep dive and get things off of phones, tablets, or computers, if needed. Don’t call them; they’ll call you. Trust me.
As a parent, restricting and controlling access to the internet and other electronic communication is important. Too many kids have complete, 24-hour access to their phones. That’s like letting a venomous snake sleep in their rooms. Because kids often need to get on their electronic devices for school, having them do so in a main room where anyone and everyone can see what they’re looking at will help them not sneak into devious online locations.
Teach your children not to put their moral codes upon others. Just because we see some trait in someone else that we feel good about, we should not automatically assume they possess other good or healthy characteristics.
Other people do not have the same ideals or standards that you have. In fact, there are really dangerous and evil people in the world. You don’t need to make this about anxiety or fear, but you do need to educate your kids. Teach them not to post anything about themselves that would give away personal or private information. Tell them not to chat with people, even their own friends, if they think they’ve been hacked. Teach them basic security and how to spot online deception.
There are a few parental control apps that can help. Bark, mSpy, MMGuardian, or OurPact are potential options worth investigating. JoinRaise.com, which also has an app, has great information, is free and has educational information and resources. Some of these aforementioned apps can mirror your child’s phone or pick up on key words, like suicide, for instance. Creating passwords and protecting them on televisions, phones, tablets, and computers are also essential. Don’t think they won’t try to steal those passwords. Kids are smarter than parents often give them credit.
Finally, don’t be ignorant and think that you won’t have a problem with your children or think your child wouldn’t engage in sending, receiving, or looking at pornographic images. Don’t think it (whatever “it” is) won’t happen to your family or it wouldn’t happen to your kid. Try to create an atmosphere where you and your children can speak freely, openly, and comfortably.
Let your kids know they can talk to you about anything and then let them talk to you about anything. If they’ve done something, like send a nude pic to someone who is now blackmailing them, you want them to know it’s better to talk to you about it and be completely honest with you rather than continuing to be blackmailed. Create the right atmosphere where that can occur. Don’t freak out. Just listen and help and love them.
Teach your kids that they should never keep secrets from you. Regular conversations should include learning about any comments about secrets and threats from others. Telling the truth is difficult when they believe they’ll get into trouble. Create an environment where kids can tell you the truth, even if there’s no serious punishment. Wouldn’t you rather they tell the truth than lie? Anger or creating fear is not a good motivator for honesty.
If you find out something bad has happened, you’ll want to go into rage or fight or flight mode. Even if you are not directly angry at your child, but instead you’re angry at the situation they’re in or the person who is blackmailing them, if you show your anger, they might think you’re mad at them. Try not to panic. There is help. There are resources.
There are professionals who can help, from law enforcement to mental health professionals. And remember, the quicker you stop something—even if the initial uncovering may be painful—the better. Hiding and stuffing down the bad stuff won’t make it go away. It’s better to get things out in the open and work on your pathway to healing and helping.
Lastly, don’t create more anxiety for yourself or for your kids, but don’t be ignorant either. Tough conversations are important. The sooner you speak about these uncomfortable and potentially awkward things, the better. The more you talk about it, the easier it becomes.
Teach them in order to protect them, and make sure you don’t give them a poisonous rattlesnake hoping they’ll be safe. Hope is not a good strategy. Try not to let them get bit but assume they will, at a minimum, see pornography. Assume they’ll lie and cover up what they don’t want you to know. That’s a normal response. Again, be careful how to scold them. If there’s an ongoing problem, or if you want to see a mental health counselor, don’t delay.
 Shapiro, F. (2012). Getting past your past: Take control of your life with self-help techniques from EMDR therapy. Rodale. (p. 66.)