CPN House of Hope: Keeping kids safe from abuse online

By Kayla Woody - Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s House of Hope

School closings and virtual learning have changed the way children view the digital world. Increased online presence that comes with new learning norms may put children at a greater risk of online predators. It’s vital that parents, caregivers and educators know how to recognize the signs of abuse online and how to prevent it.

As parents, we generally do everything in our power to protect our children from harm. But what are parents and caregivers doing to protect children from bullies, predators and inappropriate content online? The internet is a large part of our everyday life as well as our children’s. Using apps and websites where children interact, predators may pose as a child to gain personal information, such as an address, phone number or school location, or even encourage your child to come and meet them. The National Children’s Advocacy Center found that one in five children experience sexual solicitation while on the internet.

If you have not already, it is time to introduce cyber safety to your children. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, parents should discuss red flags that indicate online grooming, or the process in which perpetrators judge how far they can push boundaries and exploit someone’s trust. These red flags include:

• Asking to keep the relationship secret

• Sending digital currency called piece balloons or diamonds

• Asking the child to only contact them on certain apps

• Requesting photos from the child

• Sending links to inappropriate images or videos

• Asking about sexual background (for example, if they have been kissed)

• Making suggestive or sexual comments

• Making conditions on their relationship

Not all children have access to a safe home environment where a parent or caregiver is concerned for their safety. The Resource Center on Domestic Violence states, “Nearly 10 million children are exposed to domestic violence each year.” These young victims of abusive domestic situations may not be able to inform a safe adult what is happening to them, especially with the pandemic. Many public schools are relying on virtual learning for their students, and it is important educators and other adults learn to virtually spot signs of abuse. Learning these red flags of domestic violence and sexual assault can provide necessary assistance to those victims. These red flags can include:

• Unexplained absences

• Sudden changes in behavior

• Changes in school performance

• Difficulty walking or sitting comfortably

• Withdrawn personality

• Low self-esteem

• Often feeling ill

• Frequent drowsiness

Education is key when it comes to preventing abuse, whether from online predators or even those at home. Parents and caregivers — and even caring adults, like educators, family members or neighbors — should always take a child seriously when they share information about abuse from someone else.

If you or someone you know is experiencing intimate partner violence, stalking and/or sexual assault and would like more information, please contact the House of Hope at 405-275-3176 or visit us online at facebook.com/cpnhouseofhope.