As a parent it is our number one job to protect our children. In today’s world, with all of the technology, there are more ways than ever for a child to be targeted. Children can be targeted by their own peers, by adults pretending to be other children or by pedophiles looking to meet up with the child. While some parents are not as responsible with watching their child’s actions, others keep a close eye and notice when there are problems. Are there legal protections that a parent can take for their child such as a restraining order?
To fully understand the severity of the situation facing our children, it bears showing some facts. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children® has been working in tandem with law enforcement since the mid 1980’s to protect children in the United States and abroad. The Center show that in 2015 their tip line received 4.4 million reports,
“most of which related to
- Apparent child sexual abuse images.
- Online enticement, including “sextortion.”
- Child sex trafficking.
- Child sexual molestation.”
Those are scary statistics but they are a fact of the world in which we live. Our children want the latest technology. They want to be “connected” all the time. And, we want them to have those things we did not have, right? Unfortunately, when our children are connected to a world with people they do not know, it’s like taking them into a park full of millions of strangers and then leaving them alone. Is that a scary thought? It should be. That’s how the internet can be for a child without proper supervision.
Now that I have placed horrible images in your mind, let me provide you with some positive acts that you, as a parent, can take to protect your child. There are three things you can do: teach, supervise and act. Let me explain.
Teach Your Children About the Internet and all things Technology
It is imperative that you help your child about the internet, their phone, the tablet and anything else connected to the internet Ah, you say, that won’t be necessary because my child is only allowed to use it when I am present. Let me give you a real world example of how that type of thinking plays out.
Tommy loves his phone. His mom trusts Tommy. After all, Tommy is on the Honor roll. He never talks back, helps with his chores and everyone commends Tommy’s mom about what a wonderful child she has raised. No doubt about it, Tommy is a lovely young man.
As a reward for his good behavior, she purchases the latest phone. (Sound familiar?) He promises to be careful and only use the phone during set hours and only when homework is complete. No problem.
Three months later, Mom receives a call from school stating they would like to discuss Tommy’s recent behavioral changes. Mom and teacher meet. Teacher explains that Tommy’s grades have dropped. Mom says she is shocked – Tommy even uses his new phone for homework. As you can guess, there are no homework assignments that would involve his new phone. Mom goes home with Tommy and asks to see his phone.
What takes place next is all too common in our cyberworld. Mom discovers that Tommy has been “sexting” online with someone pretending to be a girl his age. As Mom turns this over to the authorities, the girl is discovered to be a trafficking ring for young boys. Tommy was one step away from meeting up with the “girl of his dreams” before Mom got involved.
What could Mom have done differently? This is a blame Mom article by any means because the “bad guy” is to blame, but, Mom could have learned about the phone and the dangers it can create. Perhaps some monitoring would have prevented this which brings me to my next point.
Monitor Your Child’s Usage
I often hear parents say “I want to respect my child’s privacy”. That sounds noble. However, the truth of it is this. Your child needs for you to have their back at all times because she or he has no clue where harm can come from at their age. They have conflicting ideas that change from minute to minute depending on what they hear and conflicting emotions that change even faster. Those are not a good mix for making solid decisions when it comes to their own safety. They have the rest of their lives to have privacy. Right now, they need safety.
I think back to my own parents. No, we did not have smart phones or any of that BUT we had journals and the like. I feel certain that my parents at least took a peek every once in awhile to make sure I was not planning to do something too reckless that would harm me or my future.
There are ways to monitor without a war. 1) Set the expectations early. Don’t allow your child to think you are their friend. You are there to parent and keep them healthy and safe. Your job is to teach them. They need to know that. It allows them to respect you and the boundaries. 2) Explain that part of owning a phone, computer, etc. is the responsibility to work with you so that they learn. 3) Know that there are also software solutions that can help you as well. You can install these onto the devices and be alerted immediately to certain behaviors. This is a path you may want to consider if you have a child who is determined to rebel.
Take Action Immediately
Cliff notices that his daughter is suddenly receiving a large number of text messages from a friend of the family. This friend of the family is a man in his 40’s and Cliff’s daughter is 14. Cliff confronts the friend who denies the text messaging in spite of having them right in front of him. That’s suspicious behavior. Cliff discusses it with his daughter who says, “we are just good friends”. That’s suspicious behavior. Cliff needs to act and act immediately.
What should Cliff do? Punishing the child is not the answer. She is the victim in this case and has probably been duped. However, depending on the nature of the texts, Cliff may need to take the phone to local law enforcement. Certainly if there are any photos or sexual content involved.
Cliff should probably seek out therapy or counselling for his daughter. After all, this was a trusted friend of the family. This is going to be difficult to overcome for her and there may be some anger inside the family itself. Point being, do not wait if you sense something is really off. If you need to remove the phone or other device to protect your child, by all means, do so. Remember, the child’s happiness is not as important as his or her well being.
And Yes, Get a Protective Order if Your Child is Being Harassed
Finally, if your child is being stalked or harassed, you do have some course of action legally. Seek out an attorney with experience in family law. She can help you navigate the way to get a temporary order or advise if that is the correct path to take.
If you are in a situation where you need to protect yourself or your child, contact our office. We will work with you to make the decision that is best for your family.