In her Empowering Our Youth presentation about online safety, educator Kim Smith addressed the vulnerabilities of children on the internet, the relation of the issue to sex trafficking, and the challenges of parenting in an increasingly online world.
Children who own electronic devices and have access to the internet are at risk of falling victim to online predators. These predators use apps and websites that allow them to contact other people to fish for victims who they can intimidate and often blackmail into sending sexually explicit content or money.
The most common type of sex trafficking is Romeo pimping. This type describes predators who will pretend to lead platonic or romantic relationships with the victim to receive some kind of benefit from it.
Smith said predators do their research before contacting a potential victim. They search the person’s profile to find out where they go to school, what sports they like, or which other people they know. By pretending to like the same things and know the same people, predators try to seem familiar to the victim and build rapport so that the victim doesn’t suspect them to be predatory.
Another often-used strategy of online predators is targeting children who post statements like “Life is hard” or “I’m lonely.” Predators exploit those vulnerabilities by offering empathy and capitalizing on the children’s needs for love, acceptance, friendships, and fitting in.
The current trend, according to Smith, is online predators asking for money rather than explicit sexual content. This trend signifies that exploiting people online has become its own enterprise. Smith said, “We are starting to think that now we have rooms of people sitting in, stealing photos, and using them to manipulate and coerce our kids into thinking they’re in a relationship.”
According to Smith, there are around 750,000 predators online at all times on almost 8 million apps available in app stores. Given these numbers, parents who never grew up in such a world and never had to deal with these issues themselves may easily be overwhelmed and react in ways that make the situation worse.
Through her work, Smith wants to show parents how to avoid that. Her goal is to equip parents and children with the tools to spot and protect themselves from online predators.
The first thing Smith encourages parents to do is to groom-proof their kids. Parents should teach their children that their value doesn’t come from strangers on social media and should explain how online predators operate. Parents should also teach their children that adult strangers looking to have relationships with them is not normal. A warning sign for children is if the person they are talking to asks them to keep their conversation a secret.
Smith’s next tip for parents is to keep their accounts private and ensure their children do the same. Predators may pull photos and information from the accounts of a child’s family members or friends to establish a sense of familiarity and security.
What’s also important is to keep the children’s electronic devices out of their bedrooms at night. According to Smith, 87% of children go to bed with their phones. When children are tired, their boundaries are lower, and they are more likely to agree to do the things the predators ask them.
The most important of Smith’s tips are for parents to be the person their children can tell everything to without being judged. Children may be reluctant to tell their parents what explicit content showed up on their screen because they are afraid their parents will think they actively searched for such content.
Furthermore, parents emotionally reacting to actions they told their children not to do may lead them not to have the courage to talk to them about things happening to them online. Because of that, parents should remain calm, look at the issue from their kids’ eyes, and talk to their children about online safety in a way that doesn’t make them afraid to confide in them.
Addressing children, Smith advised deleting all unknown people from their followers/following list and not accepting any new friend requests by strangers. Part of this is also for kids to set their accounts to private so they can control who has access to their photos and information.
Smith also encouraged children to tell their parents or another trusted adult, such as a teacher or a friend, if they are being subjected to intimidation or have been targeted by scammers or online predators. She said, “I always tell kids don’t feel embarrassed and ashamed that you were tricked because adults are getting tricked by this stuff every day.”
Another thing Smith encouraged children to do is to be a nosy friend. If any of their friends seem unusually withdrawn, switch what is on their phone screen if someone is looking or is always on their phone. Children asking each other what they are up to or what is going on can help victims speak up.
Kim Smith is an educator about online and social media safety and minor sex trafficking. After working for the non-profit organization Shared Hope International, Smith worked for Her Health Women’s Center as the director of Healthy Relationships and Online Safety Education. She has since stepped away from her role at Her Health but continues to do presentations about online safety for them in area schools.
Advice for parents:
- Groom-proof kids: teach them their value doesn’t come from social media
- Be the person who children can tell anything and everything to without being judged
- Keep accounts private
- Keep phones out of bedrooms
Advice for kids:
- Delete all people from their followers/following list who they don’t know
- Have private accounts
- Tell parents about things they encounter online
- Be the nosy friend
Her Health Women’s Center: free age-appropriate Online Safety presentations for schools, church groups or other organizations in Sioux City and Le Mars (Contact Stacy Heald: 712-276-0237 or email@example.com)
sharedhope.org – Non-profit organization leading the fight against domestic minor sex trafficking with prevention and awareness education including online safety education-many free resources available to use and share
internetmatters.org – excellent resource for young families, has age appropriate conversation starters and guidelines
protectyoungeyes.com – Facebook page with timely and relevant information (they also have an app with some free content and a monthly subscription for more info)
defendyoungminds.com – great resources especially for young families, sends frequent emails to parents to help spur conversations
“Seduced” by Opal Singleton Hendershot
“Societal Shift” by Opal Singleton Hendershot
“Hooked on Games” by Andrew P. Doan, MD, Ph.D
“Glow Kids” by Nicholas Kardaras, Ph.D
Content Control Filters:
Presentation by Kim Smith
Written by Emily Rottaler