Due to school closings and stay-at-home orders resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, children’s increased online presence may put them at greater risk of child exploitation. Parents, guardians, caregivers, and teachers can take the following measures to help protect children from becoming victims of online child predators:
• Discuss internet safety and develop an online safety plan with children before they engage in online activity. Establish clear guidelines, teach children to spot red flags, and encourage children to have open communication with you.
• Supervise young children’s use of the internet, including periodically checking their profiles and posts. Keep electronic devices in open, common areas of the home and consider setting time limits for their use.
• Review games, apps, and social media sites before they are downloaded or used by children. Pay particular attention to apps and sites that feature end-to-end encryption, direct messaging, video chats, file uploads, and user anonymity, which are frequently relied upon by online child predators.
• Adjust privacy settings and use parental controls for online games, apps, social medial sites, and electronic devices.
• Tell children to avoid sharing personal information, photos, and videos online in public forums or with people they do not know in real life. Explain to your children that images posted online will be permanently on the internet.
• Teach children about body safety and boundaries, including the importance of saying ‘no’ to inappropriate requests both in the physical world and the virtual world.
• Be alert to potential signs of abuse, including changes in children’s use of electronic devices, attempts to conceal online activity, withdrawn behavior, angry outbursts, anxiety, and depression.
• Encourage children to tell a parent, guardian, or other trusted adult if anyone asks them to engage in any inappropriate behavior.
• Immediately report suspected online enticement of a child by contacting the FBI at tips.fbi.gov, or filing a report with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) at 1-800-843-5678 or report.cybertip.org.