How do you protect your children? What is a parent to do? Just this weekend, I had two parents reach out to me regarding their children.

First, the mother of a 12 year old little girl called me. Her daughter chatted online with a stranger without her mother’s knowledge. Why was this a problem? Why was it alarming when the mother discovered it? Because that someone was a grown man.

While mom viewed him as a stranger, because she had never met him, her daughter likely viewed him as a friend, because they had become friends on social media. 

The mother freaked out because after she confronted her daughter about communicating with this man, her daughter revealed she had taken photos of herself for him.

I reached out to an officer in the Internet Crimes Against Children division of her city, whom I happen to know. We needed to learn what her next steps should be because it can vary from city to city. He was very gracious to respond to me on a Sunday after I reached out via social media. Today, she is taking the necessary steps to protect her daughter.

Computers and phones are great devices to have; however, young people need to learn they can become dangerous when misused. It’s important for our children to know:

When a minor takes a nude or partially nude photo with a phone and sends it to another person, there are legal ramifications involved.

  • Taking the photo on their phone is the manufacturing of child pornography.
  • Having the photo on their phone is possession of child pornography.
  • Sending the photo to someone else is distribution of child pornography.

All three of those are felony offenses. Educating your child about the dangers of technology is critically important.

Now having said that, the detectives I have talked with said they would never prosecute the child, because they recognize the child as a victim. They said they would encourage the child to come forward and provide whatever evidence they could so they could track down the perpetrator.

I told you I heard from two parents this weekend. Next, I received a comment to a blog post I wrote a couple of years ago on my other blog, which can be found here. It was from another frantic mother. She was in a store with her young son when a stranger came up to him and took his picture without permission. He then tried to strike up a conversation with her son, not realizing she was right there. It was very alarming. He said he was sending the photo to his sister because the the young boy looked just like his nephew. He pressed the send button right in front of her. The mother was stunned. The potential dangers didn’t hit her until after the man walked away.

I encouraged her to report the incident to the authorities so it would be on record, along with the description of the man.

Many times something may seem innocent or random like this only to learn it is a pattern of a pedophile or trafficker.

No one has the right to photograph your child without your permission. Schools have to get parents to sign release forms to photograph children for any reason. It is for the child’s protection.

I also encouraged her to take time to review what she had taught her son about stranger danger and to even play the “What If” game with him.

How do you play “What If?”

  • You supply your child with a situation and ask them, “What if this happened to you? What would you do?”
  • This allows you to see how your child would naturally respond to the situation, without coaching on your part.
  • If the response is different than you’d like, first ask them why they chose their response. This allows you to follow their line of thinking and many times learn a lot from them and the way they process.
  • You then offer the alternate solution to the situation explaining why you would prefer your child respond that way.
  • Have the child give you a “What if?” situation and then you respond to it, giving the reason why you chose to respond that way.
  • This would allow the child to see what you would do and why.

Playing the “What If?” game is a nonthreatening way to discuss stranger danger with your children. The fact that we call this type of lesson stranger danger implies there is only danger with strangers; however, research tells us,

90% of child victims know their offender, with almost half of the offenders being a family member. Of sexual assaults against people age 12 and up, approximately 80% of the victims know the offender.”

It is important to teach your children not to keep secrets from you, even if someone else tells them not to tell. This is a common tactic used by abusers of any age.

To learn more about things you can do to keep your child safe, go here.

Education is critical in keeping your children safe. Take time to talk with them about stranger danger and not so stranger danger. Educate them on digital citizenship and how important it is for them to know what they’re sending and who they’re sending it to via text or online. It could make all the difference in their safety.