What exactly are our children doing online? Watching kids unwrap toys on YouTube? Discovering weird new dances on TikTok? Sending selfies on Snapchat?
A 37-year-old mother decided to find out. As part of the research for her work (she works for BARK, a child monitoring app for parents and schools), she took to Instagram in disguise as an 11-year-old girl. How many online predators this attracted is just shocking!
What are our children doing online?
The mum outlines her experience in MEDIUM, as she transformed into Bailey – an 11-year-old student wearing glittery nail polish, a hoody and scrunchies on her wrist.
The picture posted to Instagram was “a generic, innocuous selfie of Bailey with an ear-to-ear smile”.
It was captioned, “V excitedd to see my friends this weekend at Carly’s party. ILYSM!!” #friends.
The photo is blurred so we can’t see exactly what ‘Bailey’s’ face looks like. But this isn’t the point. As far as the world is concerned, Bailey is 11.
The majority of 11-year-olds are still prepubescent. Menstration hasn’t started and they’re generally not yet wearing bras that are categorised by letter-and-number sizes. Their hobbies and interests vary, but largely they’re not thinking about sexual relationships or sex organs or sex at all.
But their predators are.”
Over the course of one week, over 52 men reached out to the 11-year-old girl
Almost immediately after sharing a photo on Instagram, Bailey had three new requests for conversations.
As ‘Bailey’ explains, they all started the same way – telling her she was beautiful, asking her how long she’d been a model, asking if she had a boyfriend.
Within 5 minutes another online predator @ XXXastrolifer is sending Bailey a video of himself masturbating.
Another instagrammer, @ XXXthisguy66, is talking blow jobs and sex, sending pictures of his erect penis, and requesting naked photos back.
By the end of two-and-a-half hours, I’ve had seven video calls, ignored another two dozen of them, text-chatted with 17 men and seen the genitalia of 11 of those.
I’ve also fielded (and subsequently denied) multiple requests for above-the-waist nudity (in spite of being clear that Bailey’s breasts have not yet developed) and below-the-waist nudity.”
This is terrifying, right? As a mum with a 9-year-old daughter and an 11-year-old son, it makes me want to throw their devices in the ocean.
But could these kinds of sick exchanges really be happening to our kids? And how can we make sure it’s not?
Here are 9 easy ways to protect your children from online predators
- Communicate with them regularly – Find out who they’ve been interacting with on their smart devices and games. Ask them what people are talking about at school.
- Check their devices – If you’re worried they’re in danger, as a parent you have a right to look at their phone messages and apps. Even if they’re angry with you, it could be necessary.
- Supervise and limit devices – Nothing replaces parental supervision and education for kids about cyber safety.
- Choose age-appropriate social media – If you don’t know about, understand or have your own account to the requested app, you need to tick all these boxes before you let your child have it!
- Be your child’s friend – Whatever platform(s) you decide are suitable for your child make it a rule that they must be your friend or connection.
- Promote the STOP, BLOCK, TELL Rule – If someone messages or emails content that’s threatening, explicit or rude, this is the process that should be adhered to. Firstly the child must stop responding and then block the person or people sending the content. It is imperative the child then tells a trusted adult what has happened.
- Teach them the concept of privacy – Remind your child to never give out personal information such as their home address, school name or telephone number in a public message such as chat or newsgroups.
- Set rules for technology use – Having clear boundaries about technology use, in a positive and respectful way, will assist in keeping honest communication lines open and technology use safely contained.
- Understand you will need to evolve – As your child grows, how and why they are online will change. Your knowledge of what they are using needs to evolve, literally, as they grow.
Likely the rules you applied to them as a 7-year-old will be vastly different from that of a 10 or 15-year-old. Be sure to stay abreast of what your child is using and show them the respect of adjusting the rules and expectations of them as they mature. The online predators are everywhere.