26 Aug Prepare for Predators. Help Nice Kids Win in the Digital Age.
Quick glance: Predators are in constant pursuit of young people online. Is your child prepared? We share a Snapchat story below that almost ended badly and one dad’s epiphany that should be a wake-up call for all parents. Oh, and some of you might be saying to yourself, “Why just “nice” kids? Don’t you care about all kids?” Yes, of course we do! If you keep reading, trust me, it will make sense.
A Snapchat Story – A Predator Came After My Boy
“A man has been grooming my son through Snapchat. Can we talk?”
This was the essence of a note I received from a father this summer. We had a very productive conversation, which brought to light some of the sinister steps a man took in order to lure his son into a very dangerous situation.
As I write this, I’m flying home from my first talk with junior high students for the 2018-2019 school year and it was amazing. After a summer mostly away from the speaking circuit, it was energizing to be back in front of “my peeps” – junior high students. For whatever reason, I LOVE this age group – grades 5-8. They’re smart enough to “get it” and still spongy enough to “want it.” And at one of the largest intermediate schools I’ve ever been to, I had a chance to speak to over 1,000 kids in grades 5-6. It was a great day.
I walk away from days like that with hopes and dreams about future choices that will be different and better because of the knowledge we share. I’m especially hopeful for the 80% of the 5th grade class that raised their hand because they already have social media. I hope they will make good choices (you should have seen the looks on teachers’ faces when 400 10-year-olds raised their hands).
Related post: No Social Media Until High School #waitingisloving
At Protect Young Eyes, the work we do is truthfully exhausting. Staying up-to-date on the latest digital trends and then taking that information in front of schools, churches, and leaders is unbelievably gratifying, but at the end of a long day of speaking, you’re empty. It’s a good empty. But we do it because each of us on the team – Doug, Carol, Travis, Rose, Emily, and myself – we truly believe in the future potential of students. We are driven by a deep desire to see each of them live full, meaningful, positive lives.
Preparing Kids for Predators
For 2018-2019, one of the ways we aim to help students realize better lives is by increasing our emphasis on preparing kids for online threats from humans with bad intent (sexual predators).
Back to the story at the beginning. This father is pursuing criminal charges. Turns out this man has also been grooming many of this 14-year-old’s friends, too. While unpacking the situation, this son told dad (paraphrased):
“The man was so nice. His questions seemed normal. About school. About sports. About all of the things that I like. I didn’t know how to not talk to him. Dad, I didn’t want to be MEAN.”
This was an epiphany for dad. In other words, his son didn’t know what to do with a seemingly nice stranger.
This is going to sound unusual, but in America, we have an epidemic of niceness. No one wants to say anything that might offend anyone. In my hometown, there’s an initiative in schools called Be Nice. I get it – stop being mean, stop being a bully, appreciate mental health, and love your neighbor. Makes perfect sense.
But, I contend that this is only half of what kids need to know in the digital age.
Just “Be Nice” just doesn’t cut it.
In our popular post, Tricky People: Stranger Danger in the Digital Age, we explore the stark differences between analog and digital strangers. Meaning, we used to identify strangers by what they looked like. That doesn’t work in the digital age. We now have to teach kids how to identify digital strangers by what they talk like.
People we don’t know online who ask a lot of nice questions are what we call tricky people. And, tricky people like to ask a lot of nice questions.
Therefore, the problem with the Be Nice movement is that it’s setting up some kids, like the young man above, for becoming victims because they don’t know how to walk away from potential predators. They tend to believe that not answering nice questions is mean and therefore, they stay engaged.
It’s not just Be Nice. It’s “Be Nice. Be Smart.”
Statements about Predators that Kids (and Parents) Need to Hear
So, this year for grades K-8, we are dialing in on explaining who tricky people are, things they might say, and what to do if that little knot in our stomach tells us something doesn’t feel quite right. We tell kids: It’s OK to not talk to NICE people I don’t know online. Why? Because they can hurt me. BADLY. Walking away isn’t MEAN. It’s SMART.
For grades 7-8, we refer to them specifically as sexual predators. For grades K-6, we leave that decision up to parents in our at-home discussion guides.
And, when a kid encounters someone tricky, they need to immediately do two things: PUT IT DOWN. TELL SOMEONE. That’s it. We also explain who a “someone” is – a parent, older sibling, teacher, youth pastor, not just your friend (because they probably can’t really help you).
For our parent talks, we have the chance to say to them: We have to give our nice kids permission not to answer nice questions from people they don’t know online.
Preparing Kids for Predators Starts at HOME
So that’s it. Now, go talk to your son or daughter. Give them permission to walk away from seemingly nice strangers. Read our Tricky People blog post for deeper insight into this issue and practical guidance for talking to your kids (there’s even a video you can watch together).
Related post: Tricky People – Stranger Danger in the Digital Age
Make the assumption right now that at some point, your child will interact with someone they don’t know online. Are they prepared? Whether your kid uses Snapchat or not, it’s time to have the conversation. An internet doorway that you can’t control is probably sitting right next door.
Be nice. Be smart. Parent well. And, if you have an experience with tricky people that you think might enlighten another parent, please share it in the comments below.
Breaking News about a new scheme from potential predators:
We depend on the thousands of parents who follow us to share their digital experiences. In two different states, we’ve recently become aware of a scheme where “someone” sends out text messages to a list of cellphone numbers with an inappropriate picture. I’m not sure how they get the bank of numbers, but the message says something like, “Hey, Jim, here’s the picture you asked for.” And, when the recipient replies saying, “I’m not Jim, don’t send me this.” The person pivots with, “I’m so sorry. But, what are you doing tonight?” It’s a fishing game, looking for bites. It even happened to me, Chris, just three weeks ago when I received a racy photo from a woman I don’t know who followed this exact pattern. Kids could easily be tempted to reply, answer a few questions, and get lured into a really damaging spot (have you ever heard of sextortion?).