Talking to Your Kids About Online Safety Pt. 3

8 Dec, 2023

Part Two of this four-part blog series discussed how you can further educate yourself about online safety by identifying red flags that may show up during discussions with people online and how you can continue keeping the kids or teens in your care safe online.
In the Third part of this blog series, we will discuss how to speak with your kids and teens about sexual exploitation online and topics that you may want to discuss.

How to speak with your kids/ teens about sexual exploitation online
Although it may feel awkward to discuss certain topics with the kids in your care, remember the information you pass on could be lifesaving. Not only will you be educating them on how to live safely in our society, you’ll also show them you are a safe place for them to come to if or when needed. You are building a bridge for communication and portraying healthy relationships.
Below, you will find some tips on how to speak with your kids.

Use Incidents and Stories in the Media or News to Start a Discussion
As scary as it may be, try not to hide the news from your kids or teens. Odds are they will hear about what’s going on from friends, at school or on social media. Instead, use the news to start a conversation. When stories about assault, exploitation or online safety come up, ask them questions to gauge what they are aware of. This is an opportunity to start a meaningful conversation while cleaning up any misinformation they have gathered. Be sure to share your perspectives, while being open to what they have to say, too.

While discussing the incidents and stories, be sure to incorporate your own experiences, as well. One of the best ways of learning and connecting is by sharing:

  • What you have done in the past.
  • What you would have done differently.
  • What could have been done to prevent the situation.

Just Talk
There is no right moment to chat about this subject; any time is the right time, but you want to make sure both you and your environment are calm and relaxed. This will help your child to feel safe and willing to open up and listen. Perhaps introduce times in your daily routine that also allow for privacy such as before bed, on private walks or in the car.

Make Yourself Available
When your kids come to you with questions or problems, make time for them. When they don’t come, still make the effort to check in and make sure they are ok and using technology responsibly. As kids age, they will want more freedom and it may appear they need you less, but in reality, they need the confidence and security that comes with knowing you’re still there for them. It’s usually when you least expect it that your child becomes ready to have the conversation you’ve been waiting to have with them.

Be Direct
When discussing difficult topics such as human trafficking or abuse, be sure to be direct while still taking into account the age and maturity of your child. As they get older, they will be ready for more in-depth conversations, but it’s important for you to understand what your child can comprehend and what their personal limitations are. Information overload or sharing sensitive information too soon can cause more problems.

Talk About the Risks
Use statistics and factual examples to showcase just how severe situations can be for those who are trafficked or abused. Many kids think the things they see in the news could never happen to them or only happen to kids who are _______(enter stereotype here). Often, they may have a higher sense of invincibility, which is natural but can lead to problems down the line. Start by explaining that not every abuser or trafficker will look or sound like they do in the media or in entertainment.

Be sure to highlight that just because someone is a friend or even a family member does not give them the right to touch or ask personal questions. Let them know that when in doubt, you are a safe person to ask for guidance.

Things to Discuss with Your Kids/ Teens
When it comes time to talk to the kids or teens in your care, you may find you have no idea where to start. Having to come up with the dialogue and share stories about yourself that you may not be proud of can be daunting.
Below are a few topics that may help get the conversation started.

How to Get Out of Uncomfortable or Scary Conversations
It’s not just kids or teens who are uncomfortable saying no; many adults also have issues with the word, especially when it comes to their peers or other adults. Many kids have gone through life being told to trust adults, have been forced to respect older figures and don’t have a strong sense of boundaries. Make it known that it’s ok to say no and leave a chat or situation if something feels wrong and teach them ways to exit situations.

Here are a few examples:

  • Blocking and deleting
  • Saying no thank you
  • Bringing in an authority figure as support
  • Blaming parents (I can’t send you pictures, my mom monitors the computer. I can’t come out, my dad said no.)

The Risk of Exposing Their Body on Camera
When something is loaded onto the internet, it lives there forever. People are fast to use screenshots and save information before you can delete it, something many youngsters don’t consider. In a world full of shaming, sharing images and bullying, educate your kids on the risks of exposing themselves via pictures, videos or webcam. Be sure to stress the importance of not letting anyone take pictures of their bodies for any reason, as offenders often have a way of making it seem ok. There is an online epidemic of people who trade pictures and videos of children and teens which your kids may not be aware of.

It’s OK to Say No.
“No” is a sentence in itself. Teach them to say no to any touch, comment, conversation or situation that makes them feel uncomfortable. Teach them to say no with force and to mean it, cutting off any possibility of negotiation. Many kids lack the confidence to say no because they were taught to be obedient, listen to their elders, and follow the rules. In public, even if it makes you uncomfortable because your child has said no, stand by their decision. For example, if your child doesn’t want to hug or kiss someone at a family gathering, respect their decision to say “no” to this contact and back them up. It’s their body.

Personal and Body Boundaries
Teach your young ones that no one should touch their private parts without their explicit permission. This includes a doctor, family member, friend, or even you. Explain that at their age, even asking to see these parts of them nude is out of line and they should let you know if it happens. I repeat, no one should ask your child to touch their private parts unless you are present and can help them make an informed decision (ex: with a doctor). With your teen, sex and sexual activity is something that you should discuss with them and explore what the limitations or constraints should be. Have conversations that inform your teens what consent, comfort and safety look like with sex.

Explain what boundaries are, how to set them, and how to reinforce them.

Other Topics For Discussion:

  • How to exit unhealthy relationships.
  • The risks of exposing personal information online.
  • How to verify the person they are speaking to is actually that person.
  • How to trust their gut or instincts.
  • How to identify and what to do when a situation goes too far.
  • What to do if someone says something they don’t feel comfortable with.
  • What to do when things become sexual or inappropriate.
  • How to deal with threats, blackmail or crossing of boundaries.

Stay tuned for the last entry of this series, which will touch on how to identify the signs that your kids need more support and how to model safe behavior for your kids.