Talking about online predators

Talking to your child about predators can be hard to navigate. Here are our top tips to help get the conversation started.

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2. Follow this process

Do some research on language and terminology

Come up with some ways to describe an online predator in an age-appropriate way. As parents, we know much more than our children need to know when it comes to grooming and predatory behaviour, but it's important not to scare them unnecessarily and keep things simple. 

You might start by talking about their thoughts on the difference between the words “safe" and "unsafe”. Help them attach their feelings to those words, and then discuss what an unsafe stranger might be, how they might make you feel and why. 

A great discussion starter is talking about the 3 golden rules of online communication:

  1. We only talk to people whose first and last names we know.
  2. We only talk to people we know in real life.
  3. We only talk to people who mum and dad know and say it's ok to chat with.

Having difficult conversations isn’t easy for anyone, but there are a couple of tips that can help keep things on track:

Use questions and comments like:

  • ? What might be some warning signs that someone is an unsafe stranger?
  • ? How do you think an unsafe stranger would make you feel?
  • ? What are our house rules when it comes to talking to people online?
  • ? What could you do if you found yourself talking to a person you didn’t know online?
  • ? Where are unsafe strangers on the internet?
  • ? What do you think about kids who talk to unsafe strangers?
  • ? What questions do you have about unsafe strangers?
  • ? What advice would you give your friends about unsafe strangers?
  • ? Who could you go to for help if you were worried about unsafe strangers?
  • ? What are our golden rules of online communication?

Ensure they know that if they make a mistake they can come to you

Research shows that kids will often choose not to report issues they experience in the online world for fear of parental judgement, overreaction or device removal. It is imperative they know that they can come to you no matter what and you will be able to help them. The biggest protective factor for kids is help-seeking behaviour, so ensure you find ways to convey that to them.

Find out what they know

Find out what they know about online predators, and what they think grooming actually is. Children at this age have often been exposed to media or news reports on the topic, or heard rumours at school, and feel they understand what online predators are about. Worse, many also feel they may be able to outsmart predators by tricking them or beating them at their own "game." It is helpful to sort fact from fiction when it comes to what kids know about where predators might be present and help them make the connection in understanding why speaking to someone online can have dangerous, real-life repercussions.

Having difficult conversations isn’t easy for anyone, but there are a couple of tips that can help keep things on track:

Use questions and comments like:

  • ? What is an online predator in your opinion?
  • ? What does an online predator look like?
  • ? How might talking to an online predator impact you in real life?
  • ? I know kids talk about online predators being able to find us in real life. How might they do that?
  • ? What are some of the things you think an online predator might say to a kid to get them to talk to them?
  • ? If someone is really nice to us, does that make them our friend? Why/why not?
  • ? What if an online stranger is a kid? Is it safe to talk to them?
  • ? What would you do if a stranger asked to meet you in real life?
  • ? What advice would you give your friends if they were talking to a stranger online?
  • ? Is speaking to strangers risky in games too?
  • ? Tell me more about that ...

Don’t go into too much detail

Talking to your child about online predators is an incredibly important topic to raise early and often, but you don’t need to go into the specifics regarding the intentions of online predators and grooming (specifically the sexualised intentions). Sticking with facts like “Online predators are people who use the internet to take advantage of kids” is enough.

Regulate your own feelings

Identify and manage your own emotions when it comes to discussing this topic with your teenager (especially if there has been an incident). The fact that your children have potentially put themselves in a risky situation with a stranger is enough to cause any parent's blood pressure to rise! Take a few deep breaths, focus on facts without over-dramatising, and try not to judge them by seeking to understand their motivations for communicating with people they don’t know online.

Having difficult conversations isn’t easy for anyone, but there are a couple of tips that can help keep things on track:

Use questions and comments like:

  • ? What would you do if someone you didn’t know contacts you online?
  • ? What if they seemed totally harmless? Would you speak to them then?
  • ? What sort of questions would concern you if a stranger asked?
  • ? What would you do if they seemed to really get you, and you had a lot in common?
  • ? What if you felt sorry for them? Would that cause you to give in?
  • ? I know sometimes our family life can be busy. What if a stranger showed you attention and care at a time when we had a lot on at home? Would you tell me about it?
  • ? I need you to understand that you can tell me anything about your online life. I may not always agree with your choices, but I will always be here to help and support you. You are my priority.
  • ? Push through awkward moments by saying “Tell me more …”

Make sure your child feels you are a safe person to come to

Wait, you’re their parent, right? Why would they not feel safe coming to you?! 

Research shows that kids are reluctant to come to their parents when things go wrong online because they feel the parent will overreact or make the situation worse. Make sure your child knows they can come to you without being judged. Be clear that you will find a solution. Be clear that you are on their side.

Consider your teen's perception of online friendships

Remember that your teen's interpretation of online safety when it comes to strangers may be quite different to your own. Try listening to them from a place of curiosity and inquisitiveness, but also ensure you have some facts and evidence to back up your concerns and to get them to consider alternative viewpoints. 

Having difficult conversations isn’t easy for anyone, but there are a couple of tips that can help keep things on track:

Use questions and comments like:

  • ? What are your thoughts on online predators? Have you ever worried about them?
  • ? What would you do if someone started asking you uncomfortable questions? What options do you have?
  • ? Where do you think online predators contact teenagers most?
  • ? How often do you think this happens?
  • ? Do you feel confident dealing with strangers online?
  • ? What would you do if you felt someone was not quite right?

Keep it casual

Keep the conversation casual, and ask them to teach you what they know. If teens feel they are being interrogated, they tend to shut down. When you allow them to feel empowered by sharing and teaching you (even if you have to play a little dumb), the conversation will flow more easily.