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How to Protect Your Child From Online Predators

How to Protect Your Child From Online Predators

For many parents, the day they find out their child is being approached, targeted, educated, and manipulated by strangers on his or her digital devices is the day they finally take seriously all the warnings and admonitions about phone and digital device use they have heard for years. By that time, often great damage has been done.

It is never too late to take action to protect your child, but the sooner you do so, the less damage will be done.

If you think that digital abuse, moral deprogramming, transgender grooming, addiction, or even trafficking can’t happen to your child (because your child comes from a good family, or your child is smarter than that, or you’ve already warned them about digital dangers), you’re wrong.

Here are three real examples from good families with smart kids who talked about digital dangers together and still faced serious digital entanglement and danger.


Jenna needed an iPad to do some of her junior high school homework on. Her parents got her one and discussed basic digital safely with her. At first, they made sure it was used sparingly and put away every night.

Over time, the presence of the iPad became normal, and her parents forgot to stow it at night. Jenna began taking it with her into her room at night. She encountered increasingly dark and disturbing content on it. She continued to consume this content, even though she wasn’t sure why she was doing it, and over time she became increasingly despondent, irritable, and sad.

Her mother finally noted the difference in Jenna and asked her about it. By this point, Jenna was experiencing suicidal thoughts. She told her mom about the iPad and everything she’d been accessing on it, as well as her feelings of despair.

Jenna’s distress was so acute that her parents got her into a trusted therapist who could help her emerge from the dark place she had descended into. The other thing they did was remove the iPad entirely except for times when they could sit down with Jenna and use it for specific school assignments.

What was Jenna’s response when they took away the iPad? Relief. She expressed profound relief at having the device — and its influence over her — removed.


Nikki got a smartphone when she was in her mid-teens. She began to do harmless searches for things teenage girls might be interested in, such as, “What do boys like?” The content was innocent at first, but quickly became erotic.

Before long, Nikki was saturated in sexual content and was being told by numerous sources that engaging in extreme sexual behaviours with boys was normal and expected.

Soon, she was being approached digitally by older boys and men who were interested in her sexually. She liked the attention she was getting, so she joined a dating app (lying about her age so she could do so).

Encouraged by the continued attention she got on the app, she began leaving her home in the middle of the night to meet men in their 20s and engage in sexual acts. By the time her parents became aware of the situation, she was one step away from being sucked down the road to sex trafficking by a man who was pretending to be romantically interested in her.


Olivia downloaded the Snapchat app on her phone to connect with her friends even though it was against her parents’ rule. She did connect with friends, but strangers immediately began to reach out to her.

Within only a few messages, some of these strangers began telling her they had seen pictures of her, how beautiful she was, and that they would like to perpetrate sexual acts on her. They began describing the acts in detail and when she showed surprise, one of the men expressed how much he loved being the one to expose inexperienced girls to depraved acts.

The girl found the interaction disturbing — but also somewhat intriguing — and allowed it to continue. She realised she wanted it to end, but didn’t know how to extricate herself from the situation. Thankfully, she did something smart: She showed her mom the messages. Her mom told her that she should immediately stop the conversation, delete the app, and not return to it.

The Radical and Unthinkable Thing

There is much to be said about these three examples, but I will point out only two things. First, in all these cases, if the parents had not given the child independent access to a digital device, none of these disturbing events would have occurred. Second, in every case, it was the parents who helped extricate the child from adverse and dangerous situations.

That being the case, we must ask ourselves why we are putting our children in digital situations from which we must rescue them. Some argue that kids just need to learn to deal with the rigours of phone use. But are children really prepared to do so? Should we expect 12-year-old girls or even 16-year-old girls to be able to navigate sexually charged situations with manipulative predators?

I am going to suggest something radical and even unthinkable to many parents: Do not give your child a fully internet-enabled phone. And do not give them any other digital device that gives them unfettered access to the internet. Simply do not do it. Don’t wait until your child is the subject of a sad story like the ones above (or one much worse) before you proactively work to protect your child.

If you have given (or are considering giving) your child or teenager an internet-enabled phone to keep them safe (while driving or to track where they are, etc.), ask yourself what you are trying to keep them safe from. The dangers of possessing a phone may outweigh the dangers of not possessing one. A phone is not only a portal for a child to access the entire world; it is also a portal for the world — and dangerous people in it — to access your child. And they are eager to do so.

Don’t let them.

This article was originally published on Mercator under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0).

Image credit: Unsplash

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