By: Marissa Gunther, Director of Growth Strategies, Shared Hope International
As I prepared this announcement for Shared Hope’s Internet Safety Series, the children in your life were on my mind.
And, transparently, I have a son of my own. He turned eight earlier this month. He is curious, creative, and energetic – imagine a walking, talking pile of puppies – that’s him. And much like your kids or grand-kids are to you, he is my heart walking outside of my body.
While I’d like to tell you his favorite toy is Legos, I am certain he would quickly correct me and tell the world that his Kindle Fire is his actual favorite, thank you very much! So, despite being allowed one hour of heavily controlled tablet time per week, my son and his tablet stayed at the forefront of my mind as our Growth Strategies and Awareness team researched predatory online grooming and technology dangers.
As we’ve peeled back layers of the online world as experienced by children and teens, one emotion has grown stronger the deeper we’ve dug…
Predators are luring kids on any internet device that may come to mind. They are using tablets, smartphones, smartwatches, even video game consoles, and multi-player gaming. In these online venues, children and teens are being enticed, entrapped, and then sold for sex.
That common saying – where children play, predators prey – it’s so true.
We experienced this predatory behavior firsthand at Shared Hope, and you need to know what we saw and what we were asked to do.
While researching commonly used mobile apps, our staff member posing as a 15-year-old female was solicited within minutes by an adult male. She was sent pornographic images, asked to remove her clothing, and in one case to meet in-person. Another adult male groomed her with friendship over several days; then, his messages started to become sexually explicit. His profile picture was a puppy.
Worse still, the solicitors were decades older… decades!
Seeing and experiencing the evidence right before my eyes, I thought: How do I keep my son safe in an ever-changing, anonymous digital world? How do we help other parents and caregivers keep their kids safe? How do we help kids develop healthy boundaries and resilience when they are being tricked and fooled?
We start the conversation now and we do it together – with courage, persistence, and the facts in our hands.
Thanks to the work of our team here at Shared Hope, and with the input and support of our Ambassadors of Hope, survivors, and law enforcement, we now have new tools available to start the conversation. We are thrilled to be able to put these important resources on Internet Safety in your hands today.
- A new Internet Safety Guide on grooming tactics and warning signs to help keep children from being enticed by online predators.
- A new resource and supporting research on mobile apps commonly used by children and teens.
- A new educational video series to you help navigate the latest technology and apps that predators use to target children and teens — facilitated by Kelly, Shared Hope’s Community Engagement Manager and internet safety specialist.
- And coming this month a comprehensive Internet safety toolkit — with information and resources on technology dangers, parental controls, networks, mobile apps, gaming, and sexting, along with “how-to” safety tips.
These resources will empower you to:
- Teach your children and teens about grooming and sex trafficking.
- Navigate the latest technology and apps that predators use to target children and teens.
- Let friends and family know they can learn to identify the warning signs.
- Make children aware of the dangers of the online world and what they can do to develop safe, healthy boundaries and resilience.
But we’re not stopping here. With an ever-changing digital world, our team is making a promise to stay on top of the latest technology to get new information into your hands as it develops.
You can sign-up for our Internet Safety newsletter HERE
I’d say at this point that I’ve said enough, but we can’t stop here friends. We just can’t. We need to have this conversation with as many people as possible – to get these resources in as many hands as possible – to keep the conversations going.
Let’s start a ripple. Let’s shine a light in every community across the nation.
The more people are equipped to spot the dangers and signs of predatory grooming and child sex trafficking, the easier it will be to put an end to it. There will be nowhere left for predators to hide.
I hope this information empowers you to ensure the safety of the kids in your life. I truly believe that, together, we can be lights in the darkness….
…in our homes, in our communities…and online.