Where the Kids Are is Where the Predators Are
Tricky people are everywhere.
An unfortunate reality in the digital age is that the doorways to our children are everywhere. We no longer just need to lock the front door and windows in our physical home, but we also need to be vigilant and guard digital doorways. Have you ever made a list of all of the ways that your child can get online? It’s a sobering exercise.
And, a digital reality is that wherever there are kids spending time online, those are the exact places where predators are also spending time. Today’s digital predators (tricky people) are savvier than ever, and so as parents, we need to be observant, engaged, and informed. Daily.
Stranger Danger Doesn’t Work in the Digital Age
When I was a kid, we were outside constantly. During the summer Michigan months, from the moment breakfast was done to when the streetlights went on, I bounced between three different houses in my comfortable, suburban neighborhood in East Lansing. Patriarch Park was a common destination where we played 4-person baseball for endless hours.
We knew not to talk to strangers. I was five when Etan Patz was abducted in 1979, signaling a kind of “end of innocence” for children. Parents like mine told us to avoid people we didn’t know who had puppies and candy, driving white Chevy vans with few windows.
In other words, we identified strangers based on what we saw. The little hairs on the back of my neck would surely stand up in the presence of a person with bad intent. At least, this was the theory.
Fast-forward to 2017. Kids are physically safer than ever because they don’t ever leave the house. Patriarch Park is a distant memory – today’s digital parks are infinite in number and kids spend time in them from the comfort of their bedroom. Consider these three popular digital parks for elementary, middle, and high school students. Can you name them?
In order from left to right, they are Roblox, Kik Messenger, and TikTok. All three known for their predatory activity. If you were to open an account on one of these apps, you would see an endless stream of good-looking, clean-cut, hipster-perfect selfies for profile pictures. Who’s a stranger on Musical.ly? Everyone looks nice based on the profile picture I see. No hoodies or white vans. How can a kid tell?
Tricky People – The New Stranger Danger
In the digital age, we need to teach our kids to identify strangers not by what they look like, but rather, by what they say. Since everyone looks normal and friendly online, looks are no longer sufficient. Instead, we tell our kids about tricky people.
Tricky people are those that ask a lot of questions. Seemingly nice questions about what we like, where we are, or anything about us. Since most kids are nice kids, we actually need to give our kids permission to not be nice to everyone they meet online.
This is a revelation to the elementary school kids that we speak to in schools around the country at Protect Young Eyes. We teach kids in grades K-8 about tricky people, saying, “I know you’re a nice kid, but I’m telling you not to be nice to people you don’t know on the computer. Don’t be mean, but don’t tell them a thing. Don’t answer any questions. These are tricky people and we never talk to tricky people.”
We then go on to describe tricky people which are people who ask questions through Roblox or Musical.ly or anything connected to the Internet. Tricky people sound really nice. And, because social media causes us to share little details about us to the outside world, tricky people pick up on clues and use those clues to groom kids with nice questions.
For example – “I see you like soccer, too. What team do you play for?”
That’s a tricky question. We don’t ever answer tricky questions. It sounds like a nice question, doesn’t it? I know. But, we don’t every answer nice questions from tricky people.
How to Handle Tricky People?
At Protect Young Eyes, we then go on to teach kids that just like with scary pictures or pornography, we do two things – PUT IT DOWN. TELL SOMEONE. Two steps! It’s that simple.
New tools for kids in a new age. Have you talked to your kids about tricky people? Have you given them examples of tricky questions? If they use social media, where kids often share way too much, is your kid ready to handle tricky questions about their photos or videos? Here are a few:
- “When I’m mad at my parents, I go to my room. What do you like to do in your bedroom?”
- “I love Lake Michigan, too. How long does it take you to get there from home?”
- “I love dogs, too. What’s the name of your dog?”
- “Birthdays are the best! When’s yours?”
- “What’s your school like? Where is it? Who’s your favorite teacher?”
- “Where does your family live?”
- “Can you keep a secret? (there are no good Internet secrets)”
And, endless others. Remember, put it down, tell someone. A new tool for a new age. Oh, and watch this video with your kids! It will help you start the conversation about tricky people:
Help your kids respond well to digital risks in a God-honoring way
Most of our website content is secular, but we’ve created a suite of premium, faith-based videos in our Protect Young Eyes Parent University. Sometimes, when kids hear someone else talk about awkward or important things, it helps them really hear it for the first time. If you like the tricky people video above, then you’ll love the rest of our videos. Please visit the PYE Parent University today!
I love life. Seriously! Each. Day. A. Gift. Former CPA, business advisor, youth pastor, development director, porn survivor. Current marketing manager for Covenant Eyes and CEO of PYE. God shares wild ideas with me about life while I run. I love guiding parents to teach their kids how to use technology well while protecting them from the bad stuff.