Parenting in a digital world is no easy task. Keeping up with the latest apps, chats and games your kids want to be on can feel impossible. But kids today face many risks and dangers online. In fact, a recent study of 18-20 year olds in the U.S. found that 71% of respondents experienced at least one online sexual harm during childhood.
We asked Thorn, a nonprofit that builds technology and programs to defend children from sexual abuse, to provide resources and prepare you for the conversations that will help your kids navigate their online world safely.
Here's what you need to know to keep your kids safe online:
Online relationships have different boundaries. Children and young people regularly connect with people they know only online through mutual friends, shared interests, and games — and they don’t consider them strangers even if that online friend is an adult. When interactions online escalate from innocent to inappropriate, kids can feel scared and isolated.
Shame is the biggest obstacle to seeking help. According to research from Thorn, 85% of young people who had their intimate images used as online blackmail said they avoided seeking help due to shame and embarrassment. In an attempt to warn our children of the risks, we can inadvertently shame or blame them for the harmful action of others by saying things like, “You shouldn’t have done this in the first place.” This approach can compound the potential for harm and lead kids to try to handle situations that are beyond their control.
This can feel overwhelming as a parent, but Thorn is here to help. You can build trust from an early age by talking to your kids about key safety topics to prepare them with skills before they encounter risky situations online.
Here are 3 things you can do today:
Talk to your child about digital safety early, and keep talking.
Begin talking about digital safety by age 7 or younger if your kids have internet access.
Help your kids distinguish safe online relationships from risky ones and provide tools for knowing when and how to ask for help.
When parents listen with empathy and understanding about their kids' online life, they build trust while helping them make informed decisions.
Avoid using a judgmental tone, and instead use phrases like, “How are you feeling?” and “We can get through this together.”
Parents can help shift our victim-blaming culture by affirming that their children are never at fault if someone abuses, betrays, or tricks them.
You’ve got this! These discussions can feel challenging but know that you are doing a great job, and remember that this is a worthwhile journey.
If you need to talk to someone, text THORN to 741-741 for immediate help from a trained crisis counselor.