what to do if your child is talking to an unsafe person
Children, especially when they near their teenage years, can become far more daring and curious than they might have been in their younger years (though this is not true for all).
Unfortunately, this curiosity, combined with an invincible attitude, can cause adolescents to take risks and explore territory that really should be left uncharted.
Risk taking used to manifest solely in the form of audacious adventuring into the physical world. As of late adolescents are not only posed the dangers that come with being unsafe in the real world, they are now faced with a complete virtual world that really can be just as dangerous.
In the physical world, there is almost always a running dialogue with children about how they can and should behave to protect themselves:
‘Look both ways before you cross the street,’ ‘do not speak to strangers,’ ‘do not play with matches,’ ‘do not walk behind a moving car,’ ‘do not drink and especially do not drink and drive.’
As our world becomes more and more virtual with each passing day, it is crucial to ensure that you have a similar running conversation with your child about online safety. For tips see our Online Safety section.
For predators, online groomers, and online recruiters, the internet has given them almost unlimited access to their target audience as well as an excellent conduit to accomplish their objectives. Many adolescents likely don’t fully appreciate how much anonymity the internet provides. Anyone, particularly a technology savvy adult, can quickly create a full user profile complete with a name, pictures, location, and school. Frighteningly, these individuals can be quite convincing.
The average teenager is now spending upwards of 9 hours a day on the internet or on their mobile device, which is situationally optimal for online recruiters. When a child is being radicalized they will be showered with attention or in connection with their recruiter very often. This is done quite purposefully on part of the recruiter. Remaining in constant contact with their ‘recruitee’ allows them to:
· Fill an emotional void that they may seek to fill within the child. (Doing this will make the child easier to manipulate, and likely far more willing to continue the relationship with the recruiter)
· Isolate them from their physical lives by keeping them attached to technology.
· Hasten the indoctrination process.
(For more specific radicalization signs please see our How to Spot Signs of Radicalization section)
If your child is increasingly becoming more engrossed with their phones or computers, it does not necessarily mean that they are speaking to people that they should not be, but it is suggested to take a more preventative approach to ensure that an unnecessary situation does not escalate:
1. As soon as your child begins using the internet alone, check their devices’ history from time to time.
2. Once you believe your child is ready to have social media accounts require that you have the usernames and passwords for all accounts. Inform your child that you will be checking these accounts on occasion.
Many parents fear being transparent about checking their children’s accounts, they don’t want to upset their child or show a possible lack or trust.
A strategy we suggest, is that when asking you child for accounts usernames and passwords, simply say “I trust you but I do not trust other people who may try to contact you or manipulate you.” Be very clear that you in no way are questioning the judgement of your child (this is important to ensure their transparency and willingness to share in future conversations).
What to do if Your Child is Talking to an Unsafe Person
If you do search through your child’s phone or computer history and find that they are talking to someone who could potentially be unsafe, we suggest that you read through their conversations as fully as possible so you can properly evaluate the extent of their relationship.
If the relationship seems to be at the beginning stages, as in it is limited to conversation and no real action has been asked to be taken on behalf of the child (i.e. sending of personal information, meet ups in person, or sending of inappropriate content) then we suggest that you do the following:
This is applicable if the conversation seems to be between a violent extremist recruiter or a predator.
1. Read through the conversations to evaluate the extent of their relationship.
2. Once it is established that their relationship is limited to conversation (the child has not gone beyond simply texting with the recruiter/ groomer) then sit down and plan how you could most productively approach your child about the topic. It is critical that you are not reactive and are prepared to approach the subject non-emotionally. If your child senses too much disappointment or anger they may shut down and avoid sharing with you about similar issues in the future.
3. Once you feel you are ready to start the conversation with your child make sure you do so privately (without siblings or friends around), and ensure you have ample time to speak so you aren’t rushed.
4. First state simply, “I was looking through account blank and I noticed that you were speaking to someone blank.” Ask your child to tell you who they are and what they think is going on. You may find that your child is completely unaware that this individual is a recruiter/ groomer, if so explain who they are and how this can be prevented in the future. It is suggested to not tell the child what happened, but rather to have the child tell you what happened, conversation may open up if the child feels that they have some control.
5. If your child seems particularly upset by the loss of this relationship or doesn’t seem to understand why it can no longer continue, we suggest seeking out a therapist who can work through this issue with your child. If the relationship was at its very beginning stages then the therapist likely does not need to be a specialist in child grooming. The therapist should work through the emotions with your child so they can unearth what may have made them vulnerable to the lures of a recruiter or groomer. It may be found that your child simply didn’t understand that they weren’t speaking to a fellow adolescents or conversely it may be discovered that your child was having some emotional issues (or a void) and the recruiter helped to fill that.
6. If the person in question is likely a sexual predator, contact your local authorities so they can prevent this same individual from contacting other children.
7. If the person in question seems to be a violent extremist recruiter (they are discussing ideology or religion with your child) then we suggest filling out the following form for the FBI: https://tips.fbi.gov/
If you would like to ensure that your issue is addressed it may be beneficial to contact your state police.
If the conversations between your child and a potential sexual groomer (predator) seem to have gone past conversation and the child has been asked to and completed an action (sending of inappropriate images, or done in person meet ups with the predator) then it is suggested that you follow all of the beginning stages steps similarly.
If your child has been speaking to a recruiter (violent extremist/ terrorist) and they seem to have become radicalized to an extent, or they have taken up some of the extremist ideology then it is suggested that you do the following:
1. Immediately ensure that your child is not in imminent danger (they aren’t going to be meeting with anyone, traveling, or doing any other unsafe action required by the recruiter).
2. In similar suit with beginning stages, do not be reactive. Sit your child down and try to work through what happened/ where they are at emotionally.
3. If they seem very deeply entrenched in the ideology and you fear they may become violent or they are condoning violence, then it may be beneficial to reach out to local authorities to ensure proper safety measures are taken before continuing towards the deradicalization process.
4. Reach out to a support network or organization such as Mothers for Life http://girds.org/mothersforlife/mothers-for-life-network or Families for Life http://www.familiesforlife.org.uk/ for further guidance on how your case should be best handled.
5. Report the recruiter to the FBI at the following link: https://tips.fbi.gov/
If you find that your child has in fact become radicalized after speaking to a recruiter online, we highly suggest that you reach out to the resources above. The deradicalization process can be quite complex and should optimally be over seen by an expert who specializes in deradicalization.