As our dependence on technology grows, younger people are using the internet, online games, chats, and video calls more frequently. While these are often opportunities for kids and teens to learn, they can also be opportunities for abuse. It is important that the caring adults in kids’ lives know how to recognize when abuse may be happening online or in person and how to prevent it.
How caring adults and caregivers can spot signs of abuse
Someone in an abusive situation at home, especially a child, may not be able to directly communicate about what is happening to them. Caring adults outside of the home, such as neighbors, extended family, friends, and educators, can look out for red flags that may indicate a child is experiencing domestic or sexual violence.
Possible red flags that may indicate abuse include:
- Yelling in the background of video or phone calls.
- Behavior changes such as social withdrawal, difficulty concentrating, or loss of interest in usual activities.
- Unexplained absences.
- Complaints about soreness, pain, or trouble sleeping.
If you are concerned that a child is in an unsafe situation at home, you can contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline for local resources and referrals.
Children are not the only ones who may be vulnerable within the home. If you suspect that someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, you can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline over the phone or via live chat. Advocates can help you identify abuse and talk through options for next steps.
How parents can keep kids and teens safe online
Parents and caregivers can help keep teens and kids safe while with others online. You can have age-appropriate conversations with teens and younger children about red flags that may indicate an online friend is not trustworthy.
People who sexually offend will target potential victims on platforms like social media, online multiplayer games, or chat apps. These offenders may send or ask for sexual content — meaning that victimization can happen completely behind a screen and within the victim’s own home.
What is grooming?
People who sexually offend often test boundaries and manipulate potential victims before committing outright sexual abuse — this process is called grooming.
Grooming is the process in which perpetrators judge how far they can push boundaries and exploit someone’s trust.
During the grooming process, people who commit sexual abuse will manipulate a victim’s trust by passing off inappropriate behaviors as “normal” or “no big deal.”
Sextortion is a crime that happens online when an adult convinces a person who is under 18 to share sexual pictures or perform sexual acts on a webcam.
Parents can talk with teens and younger children about some of the behaviors that indicate online grooming, such as:
- Asking to keep the relationship secret.
- Making suggestive or sexual comments.
- Asking the child about their sexual background (have they been kissed, are they a virgin, etc.).
- Sending links to suggestive images, memes, or porn.
- Asking the child to only contact them on certain apps.
- Asking the child to close the door when speaking with them.
- Only wanting to chat at certain times (like at night) or asking if their parents are around.
- Making conditions on their relationship — for instance, saying they will only continue to talk to the child if the child does something in return for them, like send photos.
- Discussing the child’s appearance or requesting to see more photos of them.
- Sending the child online gifts, like items in games.
Having regular conversations about healthy and unhealthy ways to communicate online can help kids feel more comfortable coming to a parent or trusted adult if they experience inappropriate behavior online.
If a child shares that they had an uncomfortable exchange with someone online, parents should always take them seriously. Parents and supportive adults can also contact Stop It Now’s online help center if they are concerned about behaviors or seeking guidance. Contact Childhelp Hotline or local law enforcement if your suspect child abuse is taking place.
- Fostering Connection, Empowerment, and Safety in Online Learning from Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape
- Online Safety for Children & Teenagers from Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape
- Internet and Digital Media Safety Prevention from Stop It Now
- Parent Guides from ConnectSafely
- How to Prevent "Zoom-Bombing:" A Guide from National Network to End Domestic Violence
- Keeping Your Kids Safe Online During COVID-19 from U.S. Center for SafeSport
- COVID-19 Parenting: Keeping Children Safe Online from End Violence Against Children
- Update Your Privacy Settings from National Cybersecurity Alliance
- Chat Room Safety Tips from SafeKids
- Social Media Safety Guides from HeartMob