Stranger danger and online chats.

From fairytale romance to nightmare of shame.

The recent NetFlix documentary “#TheTinderSwindler” has shown how women have been taken advantage of through a deceptive conman with an elaborate ruse. While this is scary in itself, it is not as common as the scenario faced by the “Olivia” in the video below. Every day there are cases of online #sexualgrooming, #blackmail, #revengeporn and exploitation that has happened through #socialmedia and #onlinechatrooms. The damage caused is immeasurable and can lead to deep depression and even suicide for the victim.

In this scenario the victim, Olivia is a teenage girl who was exploited through an Instagram chat with a stranger that developed into a nightmare. But this is happening to boys and adults too.

The modus operandi of the extortionists is to manipulate a person in their most vulnerable state through exploiting their shame through the threats of sharing explicit incriminating images . This has resulted in trauma to family members as they find out what has transpired, financial ruin when the blackmailers demand money in exchange for their restraint, divorce as a spouse is sent the images or finds out what happened and in some cases job losses as images are leaked to employers.

We need to protect our children through educating them about appropriate #onlinebehaviour and the dangers of online engagements with strangers. The false sense of security from the perceived “safety” of being behind a screen in the privacy of your own home leads to lowering our guard, thinking we are safe.

We also need to realize that people look for relationships and experiences online because they are missing a connection or experience in reality. When we develop real life healthy relationships, we reduce the chances of pursuing the illegitimate substitute online. The more isolated we become through hiding on social media, the more chance we have of doing something that we will regret later.

Inappropriate activity is also being normalized through online platforms. Sexting, cyber sex (describing sexual actions in words), cam sex, online masturbation, sexy selfies, sex tapes, erotic dance moves and teazing short video clips as well as online dares are just some of the inappropriate activity that are being accepted as normal. TikTok, Twitter, Instagram, OnlyFans and many more platforms are filled with content that is trending. On some of these platforms, content creators are also being paid for selling their images and videos. While your child may not be doing that themselves, continued exposure to such content makes it seem normal and appropriate.
What are appropriate online rules of engagement:

Ideally only interacting online with people you actually know would be preferred. However we know that this will not always be done. So below are some ways to stay *safer (we can never guarantee 100% safety) online.

  • Don’t engage with a stranger online any differently to how you would a stranger in the real world.
  • When you are online, even what you think is being done in secret is not secretive as there is a cyber footprint of your activity.
  • Don’t share any images online with a stranger that you would not share publicly on your social media profile.
  • Don’t share any revealing or seductive images online.
  • A stranger is still a stranger until you know them in person and over a long period of time where trust is built.
  • Keep your online profiles secure rather than public.
  • Never share personal contact details, addresses or school details.
  • In many cases the person will try to move you from the social media platform to a different forum like WhatsApp, Google Meet, Skype or another platform where they can record you or access your contact details. Block and report them to the administrators of the social media platform.
  • The internet might be a platform for expressing fantasy but you are real and therefore the fantasy is not really a fantasy but a reality.
  • If someone asks for something that is inappropriate online, block and report that person.
  • Build meaningful real relationships with people in person who you will actually engage rather than online.

 

These are other helpful protocols to follow and this is by no means an exhaustive list.

 

Most importantly:

  • Stay engaged, interested and involved in your child’s life.
  • Build a trusting relationship where they feel safe to share with you what they are thinking or feeling.
  • Set boundaries around device use in private spaces (bedrooms and bathrooms are not appropriate).
  • Set boundaries of no devices 1hour before bedtime and definitely no devices after bedtime.
  • Build a healthy sense of self esteem in your child. Guide them in valuing themselves.
  • Educate your child about what sex is and how it should be valued.
  • Model healthy relationships for them

 

VERY NB: If your child has experienced this type of exploitation, do not shame them any further. Be a safe space for them to come to. You can control your anger and disappointment and they already know that what they did was foolish and shameful. Be there for them, cry with them, hold them and comfort them. Once they feel safe you can seek guidance and counsel from a professional. You can decide how to handle the situation. Your child is your child regardless of what they do or have done. Journey through life with them knowing that you will be there with them as you navigate the consequences.

We can’t control what others do. We can’t control what our children do. We can do everything possible to raise our children to make wise decisions through wise and loving parenting.

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