Using safe internet practices is imperative when we are addressing abuse against children. Children live in a digital age in which communication, relationship development, learning and exploration have gone online. While the internet can provide children with connections that they need to thrive, it can also be an avenue where they become manipulated, exploited and abused. When we are able to teach children safe internet practices, empower them to have healthy relationships and support them when things go wrong, the harms of the internet can be prevented — and the harms that have already occurred can be mitigated.
Teaching children how to use the internet in a safe manner is important. We don’t allow youth to drive a car without lessons, and we shouldn’t allow for full reign of the internet without first educating young people on what online risky behavior is; what suspicious behaviors by other users are; and how to reach out for help when it is necessary. The National Center on Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) has age-appropriate materials and resources to help you teach kids, in an engaging way, how to stay safe online.
Teaching children also includes educating them on what a healthy relationship is and what boundaries are. When youth understand what a healthy relationship is, it transfers to their digital interactions. When they can outline their own boundaries, then they are empowered to not allow someone to cross them, whether that be IRL (in real life) or online. Understanding healthy relationships and boundaries will be a cornerstone in the primary prevention of sextortion, which the OJJDP has decided to be Internet Safety Month 2022’s theme.
To empower youth to practice online safety, implementing digital ground rules for the household is a must. Those ground rules can include a window of time they are allowed to engage with friends on social media and gaming apps. These ground rules could also include having a family-wide, centralized charging station for phones and devices, and limiting use of devices in the late evening hours.
Empowering youth also means having an open line of communication between the caregiver and the young person. If they feel comfortable sharing with you the apps they use, who they talk to online, and what their peers are doing, you will have an easier time understanding their digital world and helping them should they need it.
Finally, support youth when they come to you for help. It is important that youth have a trusted adult in their life. Everyone makes mistakes, and online interactions are no different. Youth can, and in many cases will, make mistakes.
When they do make a mistake and come to you for help, don’t overact. Sit down and listen to them explain what happened and then work with them to achieve an outcome that will cause no further harm or mitigate the harm already caused. Supporting youth means removing judgment and offering resources and understanding. When the relationship is supportive, the likelihood that your child will come to you when they need help goes up substantially.
National Center on Missing and Exploited Children
Hotline to Report Missing Child/Internet Suspicions: 1-800-843-5678
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children is a private, non-profit 501(c)(
ACCESS THE NETZSMART PROGRAM TO EDUCATE KIDS ABOUT INTERNET SAFETY
DOWNLOAD NC Stop Human Trafficking TIP SHEET
If you would like an in-person training session on how to keeps kids safe online, contact Melinda Sampson at melinda@
— Melinda Sampson is the Community Outreach Coordinator of NC Stop Human Trafficking. To contact her, email email@example.com