When we consider our kids’ safety, we tend to worry most about the precocious ones, the happy-go-lucky ones who seem overly eager to make friends with anybody. Yet statistics tell us that these are not the children who are most at risk online. In fact, we should be focusing the brunt of our efforts on those children who are quiet and withdrawn, especially if we know they have already had stressful things to cope with.
It’s a sad fact that children who have been harmed in the past are more likely to be harmed in the future. Children who have been sexually abused are particularly vulnerable, but other major sources of stress in young lives can include medical problems, family breakdown, and severe bullying.
You might not always know just what it is that’s upset your child, but ongoing signs of stress should be a cue for stricter online precautions for parents. Children who don’t feel they can talk to anyone at home – sometimes, ironically, because they’re trying to protect their parents from stress – often find friends to support them online.
Sometimes these are genuine kids with similar problems, but sometimes they’re predatory adults who take advantage of their emotional needs, and this can place them in serious danger.
Online precautions for parents should come into play even before children turn on the computer. The best way to protect your kids from online predators is to provide them with the emotional support they need at home.
Try to find out why they want to spend so much time online. If they say they have a friend who understands them better there, don’t let yourself feel jealous and shut out – instead, be positive about it. Ask if you can talk to the friend and encourage your child to talk to you about how the friendship is developing.
Even if there are some things your child never feels able to discuss with you, this will help them to know that you love them and will prevent predators from making them emotionally dependent. It will help them to regain their confidence in a world of which you are a part.