Kids at Growing Risk of “Sextortion” Warns Department of Justice

Kids at Growing Risk of “Sextortion” Warns Department of Justice

Last year the U.S. Department of Justice warned that sextortion is by far the fastest growing threat to children. They learned this shocking info by surveying investigators, prosecutors, and victim service providers to determine the biggest threats in child sexual exploitation.

More than 60 percent of survey respondents indicated that online extortion of minors was on the rise. (Keep reading to find out what an internet crime detective advises about how to keep your child safe from sextortion.)

Sextortion is a growing threat for kids

So what’s the actual definition of “sextortion”? According to the FBI,

Sextortion is a serious crime that occurs when someone threatens to distribute your private and sensitive material if you don’t provide them images of a sexual nature, sexual favors, or money.

An FBI video explains:

Detectives are on the front lines of crime and know better than anyone the risks kids face in both their physical and virtual worlds.

Recently I spoke to Darryl Judge, a detective sergeant with our regional Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) police task force. I asked him for typical scenarios of how kids get pulled into sextortion and what parents can do to keep their kids safe online.

3 Ways Kids are Victimized by Sextortion

#1. Sexting with a known person

The first way Detective Judge described is one we are all familiar with–sexting. A child is in a relationship with another known person and shares compromising photos and videos to show their love and trust. At some point the boyfriend or girlfriend who has the photos decides to use them for control or blackmail, threatening to share them on social media or within popular apps if the sender doesn’t comply.

#2. Sending photos to an online stranger (who may be part of a sextortion ring)

Predators meet a child online, in a game or an app (like Musical.ly or Live.ly), build a relationship and then exploit that relationship. The kid thinks they are in a romantic relationship and sends compromising pictures and videos of themselves.

What kids don’t realize is that there are organized groups out there who target them for sextortion. According to Detective Judge, they move these kids through a series of “handlers” that are specialized in each phase of the sextortion. All the while the kid thinks they are dealing with just one caring, trustworthy “friend” or romantic interest. Here’s how it works:

  1. A child meets an online “friend” on a monitored mainstream social media website and begins a conversation.
  2. Once the relationship is started, the child is enticed to move over to a less-monitored and encrypted messenger site or chat app. The child doesn’t know that he or she is now dealing with a different person who is highly skilled at developing this relationship and getting sexual photos and videos.
  3. After the child has delivered the photos and/or videos, they are handed off to a third specialist who is skilled at extortion. And now the terror begins. This “friend” demands money or more explicit videos in exchange for keeping the videos or pics off of the child’s social media.

The kids are given specific instructions of the type of video to produce–in effect, they are being blackmailed into producing child pornography. They are asked to masturbate with a particular toy or object. The requests for certain sex acts become more and more extreme and horrible.

Meanwhile, the kid is freaking out because their parents don’t know and they suffer with a tremendous amount of shame. Highly functioning kids become distraught and mentally ill–cutting themselves or engaging in other forms of self-harm.

These organized sextortionists are often based in other countries, out of the jurisdiction of the U.S., which makes prosecution more difficult.

These young victims are typically between the ages of 11 to 18, and they hope, “If I can just send them one more photo, he’ll go away and I’ll be free.”

Sextortion Rings threaten children

Here’s the story of a young woman who was caught in a sextortion scam as a teen.

 

#3. Getting trapped by a sextortion ring on a porn site

A kid may go into a forum or chat room on a porn site where they believe they’re interacting sexually with a real model or porn star. What the kid doesn’t know is that they’re actually not interacting with a live person; instead, they’re watching a video loop that is controlled by a predator. And the predator uses the child’s camera to record everything the child is doing, from stripping to masturbating. And then the extortion begins, demanding money or even more graphic videos.

Can you imagine the fear, shame and hopelessness a child might feel being caught in this trap? Of course they shouldn’t have been on a porn site, but few kids have any idea what they’re getting into when they come in contact with a sextortion ring. And even young adults fall prey to these sophisticated operations with tragic results.

What parents can do to protect kids from sextortion

Start conversations early–the earlier the better!

Nip sexting in the bud! Good Pictures Bad Pictures Jr., teaches kids to keep private parts private and never say yes to anyone taking a picture of their private parts. Now Available! CLICK HERE to learn how to protect kids ages 3-6 from the dangers of pornography.

At least by the time a child is given a smartphone, start discussing the realities of sextortion. Help them understand the problems that come with sharing any kind of compromising photos–that  the supposed social benefits are not worth the risks. (See these 5 tips for talking to kids about pornography to get you started!)

Help kids come up with scripted replies to deal with requests for nude photos.

In the New York Times best-selling book American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teens (affiliate link), author Nancy Jo Sales describes children as young as 11 being asked for nude pics of themselves. Girls learn that if they refuse, boys may get back by starting horrible rumors on social media or apps. (One way girls cope is to use humor to put the guys off instead of confronting them and risking revenge.)

Apply the same common sense to the virtual world as you use in the physical world.

Detective Judge explained: If a stranger came up to you in a store and struck up a conversation, saying they wanted to be your friend, some warning bells might go off, right? And if you kept meeting them at the store and the conversations turned sexual, all of your warning bells would go off! But somehow meeting complete strangers online feels somehow “safer” because you can shut off the computer or close the app. What kids need to know is that online strangers can wield a lot of power once you begin to trust them and give them information or photos.

Police advice: Only allow your kids to have “online friends” they know in their physical world. Get to know the friends your children have friended or followed online.

Parents have two choices

They can pretend this problem doesn’t exist and believe it will never happen to their kids, or they can prepare their kids with awareness of the real threats out there. The second choice empowers children to protect themselves if a predator begins to engage with them online. The first leaves them vulnerable–and those are the kids predators are searching for everyday, every hour.

Do you want to learn more about protecting your kids from sextortion? For more information and to report cases of sextortion, police recommend parents visit the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Get our FREE Guide: 5 Things Teens Wish Their Parents Knew about Porn based on a presentation by Clay Olsen of Fight the New Drug. Click on this image to claim your copy:

There are affiliate links in the blog post. When you use them to make purchases, we thank you for supporting Protect Young Minds!

Parent Alert! YouTube’s Pedophile Problem + How Clever Kids Misuse Google Docs

Parent Alert! YouTube’s Pedophile Problem + How Clever Kids Misuse Google Docs

Our regular Parent Alert! news updates help parents stay ahead of the trends affecting kids in our hypersexualized culture.

Here’s what’s going on in March 2019.

YouTube caught enabling child sexual exploitation!

Eleven-year-old Corie loved to share her gymnastics competitions on her YouTube channel.

She was proud of her accomplishments and eagerly read the comments: “Great job on the double backflip!”  “You’ve worked so hard and it’s paying off!”

While scrolling through the comments she was surprised to find that one viewer had left just a timestamp and the word “hot” next to it.  The comment had 30 upvotes.

Weird?  Scary?

It’s actually child sexual exploitation!  And it’s just the tip of the latest YouTube child sexploitation crisis.

A YouTuber discovers a pedophile “wormhole”

YouTube’s child sexploitation problem is not new.

In 2017, YouTube was in hot water for allowing videos with pornographic cartoon characters to be monetized. The scandal earned the name “Elsagate”.

Fast forward to February 2019.  A YouTuber named Matt Watson uploaded his own research on YouTube’s pedophile problem.

His findings?  YouTube’s recommendation algorithms enable pedophiles to share and access child pornography.

Some examples of what he discovered:

  • Pedophiles are using kids’ YouTube videos to network with each other and trade social media contacts.
  • Pedophiles timestamp kids’ videos at points where girls or boys are in compromising situations (e.g., while doing a yoga pose or a stretch).
  • If a viewer watches a video that is heavily timestamped with suggestive comments, the recommended videos on the sidebar become increasingly lewd.  This helps pedophiles find other videos with explicit content and connect with other pedophiles to share content and contact information.
  • There is advertising from major brands on many of these videos.

This comment from Matt Watson’s YouTube video tells the story from a sibling’s perspective. (Note: edited for minor spelling and punctuation.)

“This happened to my sister. [She] and her friend were making a challenge video about 3 years ago; they were 12 at the time. This video blew up – it got like 25,000 views. I was confused why it blew up because it wasn’t a very good video. I watched the video and checked the comments and it was a bunch of timestamps with smiley face emojis. I watched the video again and saw they were wearing skirts and the timestamps were points where you could see under the skirt. The video currently has the comments disabled. I don’t know if it was Youtube or [my sister] that did this as I haven’t confronted her about the situation. Parents, please make sure your children are being safe on the internet and not putting themselves in vulnerable situations.”

Major brands jump the YouTube ship

In response to this expose, major brands have removed or paused their advertising on YouTube, including Disney, Nestle, Kellogg, and AT&T.

YouTube has since pulled 400 channels and disabled comments on tens of millions of videos featuring lewd or exploitative comments on kids’ videos.

These shocking numbers expose what a huge problem this has been!

The company has also said that it will no longer allow comments on videos featuring young children or “risky behavior” by minors.

How to make YouTube safer and protect kids online

Should your family also “jump ship” when it comes to YouTube?  Many parents are deciding that social media is not a good idea for their middle schooler.

Here are some positive parenting steps to help you protect kids online:

  1. Common Sense Media provides a great video on five ways to make YouTube safer for your kids.  There’s also an ultimate guide that answers many questions about YouTube settings.
  2. Of course, no filter or privacy setting is 100% foolproof.  But you can do something else! Build up your child’s digital citizenship to help them be confident and make wise decisions on the Internet.
  3. Siblings can provide a lot of insight into their brother or sister’s online activities because they are using the same spaces.  This isn’t to promote “tattling” on each other but to get help quickly when needed!

Check out this Common Sense Media video:

Are your kids using Google Docs as a secret chat room?

Why would kids use a word processor to communicate with each other when there’s Snapchat, Instagram, and Whatsapp – all of which are specifically designed as social media tools?

Well, it turns out that when kids are blocked or grounded from using their apps, they will find a way around that.  And in some cases, it’s by using web-based Google Docs.

It’s rather genius if you think about it! Use a “boring” software that’s normally not on parents’ radar to secretly share information and then quickly delete it all.

As Michelle Woo, Parenting editor at Lifehacker puts it:

“All they need to do is open up a document, invite their friends to become collaborators, and boom—they have a private space to chat, draw, share links, upload photos and post memes.”

The not-so-genius part of getting around parental controls is when kids use the software to cyberbully their classmates.  Unfortunately, this is happening with Google Docs.

“We’ve seen more than 60,000 cases of kids ganging up on other children in Google Docs.” Bark App Team

Parenting Tips

  1. Use a good parent monitoring app such as Bark to help you to see what your child is doing, creating, and uploading on her Google Drive. Monitoring kids is so important to keep kids safe online.
  2. A lot of the news about kids on Google Docs revolves around cyberbullying, such as who’s on the “in” or “out” list at school. Cyberbullying may also include sextortion, which involves using sexual photos as a form of blackmail. This is an opportunity to have good conversations with your kids about their digital citizenship. We can talk about not participating in conversations or activities that may hurt others – and can stay with your child for a long time.
“Have you wanted to talk to your kids about pornography, but didn’t know what to say?! I’ve felt that way for quite some time and finally found a solution – Good Pictures Bad Pictures. . . I highly recommend this book to all people with children. A must have for all parents!” – Amazon Review. CLICK HERE to learn more about Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids.

The Dirty Dozen List for 2019:  Guess who is at the top of the list?

The National Centre on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) has released its Dirty Dozen List for 2019.

Who landed on the number one spot this year?   Amazon.

Let’s take a quick look at the top twelve offenders and why they were chosen:

CompanySexual Exploitation Problems
1. AmazonLargest online retailer profiting from sexual exploitation:
  • Childlike sex dolls
  • Erotic child nude photography
  • How-to books on sex trafficking
  • Softcore porn in TV/movies
2. EBSCO Information ServicesLeading provider of online databases to schools:
  • High school databases contain non-academic, sexually explicit material
  • How-to sex act material and live links to pornography
3. GoogleGoogle Chromebooks used in schools:
  • Unfiltered and unprotected from porn

Google Images:

  • Pictures of sex acts are easily found

YouTube:

  • Pornography and sexual violence left to the public to deal with
4. HBOInfluential cable/TV network:
  • Graphic scenes, eroticized rape scenes (e.g., TheDeuce, True Blood, Game of Thrones)
  • Ineffective parental controls
5. Massage EnvyBiggest massage chain:
  • Sexual harassment lawsuits by hundreds of clients
6. NetflixAt-home entertainment provider:
  • Graphic sex acts, eroticized depictions of children, lewd shows directed to teens (e.g., Big Mouth)
7. Nevada
  • Only U.S. state that has legalized prostitution; magnet for sex trafficking
8. RokuLeading media streaming company:
  • Provides hardcore pornography channels
9. Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue
  • Hypersexualizing and objectifying women
10. SteamOnline videogame distributor:
  • Sexually graphic and violent games
  • 35 million users under 18 years old
11. TwitterSocial media outlet:
  • Hardcore pornography, prostitution, sex trafficking
12. United Airlines
  • Pornography use allowed on airplanes, sexual harassment complaints

There’s no getting around it:  we live in a sexualized, porn-saturated world. How can we protect kids online when these major businesses are helping create a sexually toxic culture?

We CAN push back!

Tap into the power of social media
Share the Dirty Dozen list and your concerns online. Corporations pay careful attention to their brand image. Help motivate them to clean up their business practices! You can quickly send a Tweet or post, ready-to-go graphics on any social media channels here.

Are you part of the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) or PTO at your school?
You can influence a safer environment by sharing the problems with EBSCO database with other parents and school administrators.  More school-specific resources can be found on the NCOSE website.

11 Safe Video Chat Rules You Probably Haven’t Taught Your Kids

11 Safe Video Chat Rules You Probably Haven’t Taught Your Kids

Imagine that your kids could use video chat to build close relationships with far-away loved ones – like their grandparents and their best friend who moved away. And at the same time they knew how to be safe from all the dangerous people and situations that can happen on video chat!

Keep reading for 11 rules to talk about with your kids. These guidelines are going to help them enjoy the benefits and avoid the risks of video chat!

Our wake-up call

Our family rule has always been, “No boys in your room.” Before my oldest daughter started dating, this wasn’t something we gave much deep thought about – until we realized that Facetime was, in some ways, like allowing a boy in her bedroom. Suddenly, it was time to talk about rules for safe video chat for kids.

It hit us—the visual interaction added to those private phone conversations opens up a whole host of potential pitfalls. We quickly realized the need for some frank conversations with our daughter.

Today, video chatting is commonplace. It’s available on many platforms and is a routine way to communicate. It’s time to educate our kids so they are ready for situations they may not anticipate themselves.

Since you can’t actually touch someone over video chat, it may seem safer than actually hanging out in person. In some ways, this is true. However, it’s important to think through the possibilities and help your child establish healthy boundaries for video calls.

Video chatting: where the online and real worlds collide

A good place to start is with the rules you already have in place. Video chatting is subject to whatever digital media guidelines you have in your family. And the same family standards for “real life” behavior also go for video calling. (If you need ideas for agreements, check out these from Fight the New Drug and Better Screen Time.)

Be clear about expectations that are specific to video chatting. Lay down rules such as what time of day video chatting is allowed, who they can chat with, when a parent needs to be present, etc. And be clear that the rules can be expanded over time as you learn more and have new experiences.

Here are some tips and tools for safe video chat for kids:

1. Define your dress code

The dress code when video chatting is the same as in person. Kids don’t always think through this one. They know their parents would never let them go out in a sports bra and running tights. But if they are used to hanging out at home that way, they may not recognize that what they’re wearing is inappropriate when they answer a Facetime call.

2. Beware too much privacy

If you wouldn’t leave two people alone behind a closed door, then the same goes for video calls. Kids may feel “safer” trying something over chat (i.e. revealing body parts or getting into suggestive conversations) than they would if they were actually face-to-face in person.

3. No chat in overly intimate spaces

There’s something sacred about a bedroom. It’s a personal haven and a reflection of who you are and what you like. To allow someone in your bedroom means you feel safe around them. But if you wouldn’t feel safe with this person in your child’s bedroom, it isn’t a good idea to allow video chat in there either. This may not be a line your child understands, since she or he has grown up with these types of devices around the house.

Prepare your young kids to be safe with Good Pictures Bad Pictures Jr: A Simple Plan to Protect Young Minds CLICK HERE to learn how to protect kids ages 3-6 from the dangers of pornography.

4. Remember that everything can be recorded and shared

Video chats can be recorded and screen-shot – often without the other person knowing. This means that even though it seems like a private conversation, it could end up viewed by far more than just one other person. Remind your children to be aware of this, and never say or do anything on video that they wouldn’t be comfortable with others seeing.

5. Respect others’ wishes

Kids may get so comfortable video chatting that they turn the camera on others without considering how they feel about it. Make sure to ask permission to include others in a video chat (i.e. at a sleepover when other kids may be in their PJs). Some people, young or old, may not want to talk or be shown on video. Kids should respect others’ privacy without question and never push friends to do something they don’t want to on video.

6. Don’t fall into a false sense of safety with familiar people

We may relax when “It’s just Uncle Bob” or “It’s just her soccer coach.” But we need to set rules to protect our children when they may be very naive and trusting. Be mindful of any one-on-one chatting taking place between your child and an adult. The scary fact is 90% of victims know their abuser. Many predators know exactly how to make the child feel safe with him/her and they can easily fool us, too. Children should only video chat with other adults when we are there to listen in.

Know how teachers, coaches, and youth group leaders are communicating with your kids. There are fantastic tools that provide necessary boundaries between kids and adults. The Remind app keeps both the adult’s and child’s phone numbers private. GroupMe is a great way to keep communication in a group setting rather than one-on-one.

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7. Watch out for predators luring kids from gaming to one-on-one video chat

There are so many games where kids can connect and play with a virtual team. With only user names to identify them, it’s impossible to know who the real person behind the controller actually is.

While they are often other kids, beware – they can also be predators who know exactly what to say to lure your child. TeenSafe reports that

“Predators will most likely start off a conversation with an innocent question about the child’s name or age, and then move into more inappropriate questions as the relationship grows. After contact has been initiated, the predator may try to convince the child to take the conversation over to another app such as WhatsApp, Skype or Snapchat.”

Become knowledgeable about grooming and the warning signs that your child may have been lured into dangerous chats both inside and outside the game.

8. Sextortion is rising dramatically

Through video chats, predators entice kids into sending compromising pictures of themselves. Then the kids are threatened with exposure if they don’t send more. It’s not just happening with older teens. In fact, 1 in 4 known victims were 12 or under when they were threatened.

9. Don’t accept video chat requests from people you don’t know.

Not ever. Not even once. Enough said.

10. Put parental controls to work for you

Leave personal details out of video chat profiles, since some profiles are public. Know how to set privacy settings in any video chat apps. For example, if you use Skype, you can make your child undiscoverable. On an iPhone, you can turn off and restrict Facetime and allow it only when you’re present.

You can learn more about specific video chat apps from Protect Young Eyes and the Zift App Advisor.

Also, consider using video apps designed for kids such as Facebook Messenger Kids or JusTalk Kids Video Chat App that might be more kid-friendly. No app is fool-proof, so be sure to keep following all these guidelines no matter what app kids are using.

11. Prepare kids for the worst-case scenario.

Just as we train young drivers what to do if they begin hydroplaning, kids need to know what to do if someone sends them an inappropriate picture, asks for personal information or behaves in ways that make them uncomfortable. Practice how to refuse grooming behaviors. Plan together how they can tell you whenever they have had an unsettling experience.

Positive plusses despite potential pitfalls

After all this, you may be tempted to never allow any kind of video chatting ever with your kids. But the fact is, video calls can be a fun and rewarding way to deepen healthy relationships.

Video chats allow kids to see their grandparents and other relatives more frequently than they normally would. My girls have enjoyed doing makeup tutorials with their friends, asking for clothing advice, and engaging in some great heart-to-heart conversations. Sometimes just seeing a friendly face helps us to feel far less alone during trying times and this goes for kids, too.

Encourage good digital citizenship! Just as we teach our children to behave in public, we need to teach them appropriate online behavior, too. This means discussing both positive and negative actions.

Ask your kids these questions:

  • What are some positive things about video chatting?
  • When is it fun to use?
  • Who are some people in our lives that make life better when we video chat with them?
  • What are some ways we can show others respect while video chatting?

These are broad questions that will elicit many types of answers. Most importantly they will get your family talking about communicating via video chat in the best ways.

Conclusion – working toward safe video chat for kids

With any technology, there are upsides and downsides to video chatting. As always, your most powerful weapon is open communication with your kids. Be a safe place, establish clear boundaries, and stay engaged with your kids – you can use video chatting in positive ways in your home.

Get your free guide to help you make that big smartphone decision!

Smartphones and video chat go hand-in-hand these days. Click below for your copy of Is My Child Ready for a Smartphone? 10 Questions to Guide Parents.

Parent Alert! The Dark Web Endangers Curious Kids

Parent Alert! The Dark Web Endangers Curious Kids

Our monthly Parent Alert! news updates inform parents so they can stay ahead of the latest trends.

Here’s What’s Trending in January 2019

Teach kids to stay far away from the Dark Web

Have you ever heard your older kids or teens talking about Tor? If so, you will want to dig in and find out more right away! Tor (The Onion Router) is the main way to get into the Dark Web, without anyone being able to identify the user or track their activity. In the wrong hands, it is used to access illegal and dangerous content. While Tor itself is not the Dark Web, it is one of only a few ways to access it.

One middle-school boy asked his parents to let him download Tor on his school laptop, saying that the school internet was too slow and this would allow him to do his homework faster. When his parents pressed him to learn more, they discovered that his friends were using it to bypass school filters and play games and music at school. Fortunately the parents did not let him continue with this plan.

Tor is free and easy to download, and gives anyone the key to the most horrific and dangerous content down in the depths of the Dark Web.

What is the Dark Web?

In a nutshell, the Dark Web (or Dark Net) is part of the internet – but it’s hidden deep within. That’s why people need special encrypted software such as Tor to access it.

Many of us access only a fraction of the total internet. We stay on the surface and mostly browse the Open Web. This is anything that can be publicly viewed using a search engine such as Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc. As vast as it seems, it is only about 10% of what is on the internet.

The next level of browsing is the Deep Web. This is where a much larger percentage of the Internet exists, and you can’t get to it unless you are authorized. A lot of the Deep Web is made of ordinary password-protected sites such as government, banking and financial records, subscription sites, legal documents and medical records.

Going much further in is the Dark Web. This is where a hidden (and heinous) world of sex trafficking sites and illegal activity takes place. People buy illegal drugs and weapons, hire hit men, harass people in suicide chat rooms, learn about hacking, sell stolen goods and promote terrorism. Child sex abusers “share enormous quantities of the most vile child exploitation images”.

“Have you wanted to talk to your kids about pornography, but didn’t know what to say?! I’ve felt that way for quite some time and finally found a solution – Good Pictures Bad Pictures. . . I highly recommend this book to all people with children. A must have for all parents!” – Amazon Review. CLICK HERE to learn more about Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids.

Child exploitation is rampant on the Dark Web

In fact, The Washington Times began the New Year with this headline: Darknet keeps exploding child-porn epidemic a step ahead of prosecutors. Today, one child sexual abuse image posted on a message board can quickly reach tens of thousands of views. This alarming reach is “now the norm for the seedy corners of the internet known as the darknet, where access to child pornography is growing at an astonishing pace.”

Why are we warning you about this? Because your tweens and teens may have heard about Tor or have friends who use it. They may even have downloaded it. You need to be able to recognize what it is in case you hear your kids talking about it or you discover it on their devices.

Instructions on how to use Tor (and other anonymous browsers) are easily found on the open web, and curious kids might be enticed to explore. They probably would not intend to use it for anything disturbing, but they could unintentionally find their way into some terrible places.

“I went on the deep web once out of plain curiosity, instant regret” – Comment from a 13-year-old

Tips for parents about the Dark Web:

Education and open conversation:

  • Ask your kids what they already know, and then build on that.
  • Part of the attraction to the Dark Webis the mystique associated with it. Take charge and educate your child about the real dangers such as child sex trafficking, sextortion, and accidentally viewing child abuse images or other illegal activity.

Supervision

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Ground-breaking study links changes in kids brains with screen time

11,000 kids. Twenty-one research sites. 300 million dollars. Ten years.

These are the building blocks for a landmark research project being conducted through the National Institutes of Health. They are studying the effects of screen time on the brain development and mental health of 9- and 10-year old children. The study will follow them through their tween years and on to young adulthood.

It’s the most ambitious project of its kind to date.

Last month, 60 Minutes reported on preliminary findings from the study, based on the initial brain scans of 4,500 children.

Here are some key findings:

  • Brain scans showed significant differences in brain structure in kids who spent 7+ hours a day on devices versus those who did not.
  • Brain changes included a premature thinning of the brain cortex in kids who used devices most heavily. The cortex is the outermost layer of the brain that processes information from the senses.
  • There is data to support that kids who spend more than two hours a day with screens score lower on thinking and learning tests.

“We’re in the midst of a natural kind of uncontrolled experiment on the next generation of children.” Dr. Dimitri Christakis, Seattle Children’s Research Institute

What can parents take away from this study so far?

  1. The American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends that parents should avoid letting children younger than 18 to 24 months use digital media, except video chatting.
  2. Tristan Harris, a former Google manager, warns that kids are being caught in the crossfire of technology’s war for attention.” Today’s devices are designed to keep users engaged – there is a built-in addictive quality to them that we cannot ignore. And kids who have gone through a digital detox are reporting the benefits of decreased screen time.

Our kids are growing up in a digital revolution! And it’s hard to tell what things are going to look like on the other side. We can model good digital citizenship through our own responsible use of technology, and guide our kids with a thoughtful plan that gives them appropriate responsibility with age.

The new Dyno Smartwatch could be just right for your kids

Looking for a way to stay in touch with your younger kids without giving in to the smartphone pressure? This product may be what you’re looking for! Coolpad has unveiled a new smartwatch for kids ages 4 – 9.

The new Dyno smartwatch connects to an app on a parent’s smartphone. Some of its family-friendly features are:

  1. Texting, voice messaging, and direct calling from a limited, parent-approved contact list
  2. A geofencing function that alerts parent if their child goes out of an established geographic boundary or “safe zone”
  3. An SOS button on the side so that kids can call emergency contacts or 911
  4. It also counts steps. Maybe it will encourage kids to move around more!

This kid-friendly watch is minimal by design. Coolpad did not want to build a device that had kids staring at another screen. So kids can’t connect to the internet, play games or download apps.

The watch retails for $149.00 plus $9.99 per month for a service plan (it works on 4G LTE network). It will be available at the end of January.

While this device is meant to be a safer alternative to an internet-connect smartphone, remember that no device is foolproof. The kid’s smartwatch is a relatively new industry, and as with all technology, parents should use their discretion with how and when to introduce devices.

Why would kids post nude images of themselves?

Parents, find out what your kids are doing online.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) are warning parents to be vigilant after four children between the ages of 8 to 12 voluntarily shared nude photos and videos of themselves on various websites.

It’s already deeply disturbing when children are exploited by adults. What influenced these children to seemingly choose to share exploitive images of themselves? Did pornography play a role? We don’t know for sure, but it certainly seems likely.

“Pornography is often a main factor, and sometimes the only factor, that influenced a child to act out in a sexually harmful way.” Heidi Olson, RN

Thankfully, the kids were identified by the RCMP’s Internet Child Exploitation Unit and are safe.

But there are still consequences.

Their images have been distributed and perhaps shared widely – compromising their identities, privacy, and safety. We truly hope the emotional needs of the children and their families will be cared for.

News reports such as these are wake-up calls. Our kids are on the front lines of a sexualized culture that seeks to disrupt and undermine their integrity and well-being. Resolve in 2019 to be prepared and not scared.

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7 Ways Predators and Porn will Target Kids in 2019 – Be Prepared Not Scared!

7 Ways Predators and Porn will Target Kids in 2019 – Be Prepared Not Scared!

Do you know where the latest digital dangers are lurking? Make no mistake about it: the porn industry and predators want your kids.

National security depends upon good intelligence – knowing who the enemies are and where they will strike. Your family security needs it too!

It’s time to be prepared, not scared. Armed with current intel on the current ways pornography and predators target children, you’ll be ready to protect your kids in 2019.

1. The Internet of Things creates safety and security issues for kids

The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to all of the everyday objects now connected to the Internet such as appliances, home assistants, and even toys. They often have the label “Smart” in front of them. And while they tout convenience and fun, they also have dangerous drawbacks.

For example, Samsung has just introduced The Family Hub – a smart fridge that features a large screen in one door. (In fact, this type of smart interface was pioneered by my husband’s Microsoft Home team 20 years ago! But I digress . . . ) I won’t lie – this looks super cool!

But parents need to be aware of the browser feature on the Family Hub which means – you guessed it! – internet access.

As you consider smart products for your home, be aware that:

  • They can be hacked. One man’s Smart TV was hacked, which allowed burglars to disable his home security system. He came home from work to find his place ransacked – with no sign of forced break in. Imagine if this had happened when children were home alone! Yikes!
  • Your child’s personal data is collected. There’s actually lots of privacy and security concerns about big companies gathering info from children who use smart devices like Amazon Echo, etc.
  • Kids have more internet access. More internet access = more portals to risky content that need to be secured and monitored.

Internet of Things

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What parents can do to help keep kids safe:

Want to teach your kids how to stay safe from pornography in every situation? Get our free Quick Start Guide for Proactive Parents at the bottom of this post.

2. Apps that allow sextortion and harrassment of kids

You may have heard the old saying, “Where children play, predators prey.” More than ever, it’s true in 2019. Today young people spend time on digital playgrounds, so people with dangerous intentions gather there as well.

Many apps have a “Live Chat” feature which lets anyone else have access to your child. And apps that allow kids to post videos of themselves are especially risky. TikTok, Kwai and Clip are some of the popular social video apps where users post 15-second clips of themselves. The apps are full of “scantily-clad women or underage girls and boys dancing suggestively, posing in a bathroom or a pool, lip-syncing to vulgar songs or flirting with the audience.”

On these video apps, many kids like to engage in challenges such as such as creating a dance video using a particular song. Prize money and social approval are big motivators for kids seeking connection and validation.

These apps have become hunting grounds for predators, who groom kids by complimenting their video and asking to see more skin. There’s also a trend of sex offenders sending explicit videos to kids, then asking them to record themselves imitating the video.

In fact, there are known sextortion rings who target children online. Kids are befriended, asked for photos which become increasingly sexual, and then threatened if the child won’t produce more.

Sextortion Rings threaten children

What parents can do to help keep kids safe:

3. Video games expose kids to unprecedented levels of sexual violence

Sexual content in video games is nothing new, but be aware – there has been a definite rise in the quantity and explicit nature of sex in video games even in the past year.

A recent study by the National Center on Sexual Exploitation reported that Steam (the largest distributor of video games) hosted over 1,600 games with nudity in 2018, double the number when compared to 780 in 2017! 35 million children buy games from Steam, and these games are available to users of all ages.

The graphic sexual content in these games is often violent, promoting sexual harassment and assault. They normalize predatory tactics and desensitize players to increasingly degrading behaviors.

The largest pornography company in the industry is capitalizing on this shift and has launched their own video game distribution platform. In just a few months last year, its user traffic leaped from 50 million to 115 million visits. This is just the beginning, because the company has invested $30 million in game studios, intending to expand the market of explicit pornographic games. And some games are free to play, meaning young kids could access them without a credit card “paywall”.

Adding to the risk, popular gaming systems like PlayStation Network and Xbox Live have been infiltrated by porn bots. If safety features are not set up properly, young players can get messages from bots trying to engage the kids in a conversation and lure them into viewing pornography.

What parents can do to help keep kids safe:

  • It’s a good time to revisit the games your kids play, the parental controls you have set up, and the rules kids are expected to follow. Find info on parental controls and video game reviews here.
  • Most of all, teach kids why sexual content in games is harmful and what to do if they run into it.

The most powerful way to protect your kids from all of these dangers is to teach them what pornography is, why it is dangerous, and what they can do when they see it! Our read-aloud books make it safe and easy for parents and kids to talk about being prepared to reject pornography. Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids (2nd Edition) is for ages 6-11 and Good Pictures Bad Pictures Jr.: A Simple Plan to Protect Young Minds is just right for ages 3-7.

“Have you wanted to talk to your kids about pornography, but didn’t know what to say?! I’ve felt that way for quite some time and finally found a solution – Good Pictures Bad Pictures. . . I highly recommend this book to all people with children. A must have for all parents!” – Amazon Review. CLICK HERE to learn more about Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids.

4. Livestream gaming – an open door to graphic games and crude culture

While we’re on the subject of video games – one thing that baffles most parents is that kids love to watch other people play video games!

This phenomenon has exploded into the popularity of watching other gamers play on livestreaming services such as Twitch, Youtube, and Facebook.

Fortnite is the most popular livestream game on Twitch – it was watched for 114,723,116 hours in the last 30 days! Kids can watch players in all sorts of games such as League of Legends, Minecraft, and Grand Theft Auto.

There’s more to be concerned about just additional passive screen time here. Your kids might enjoy playing some good, safe games in your own home, but then be exposed to violent and sexualized game content by watching other gamers play some very disturbing games that you would never approve of.

Gaming livestreams show a real-time video of the player along with the live game play – and some gamers may not be the role model you would want your child to follow. And because it’s live, anything can happen. The excitement of playing can lead to streamers acting impulsively without thinking of the consequences.

There are also chat rooms where viewers can comment; and unfortunately there is a culture of crude language, lewd behavior, risque humor, harassment of women players, and violence among many gamers. Twitch also has a Whisper feature that allows users to talk privately, which could allow grooming or harassment to go on.

What parents can do to help keep kids safe:

  • Ask your kids if they have been watching livestream gaming. Younger kids would be better off not viewing – Twitch’s minimum age is 13.
  • Reinforce consistent standards for gaming. For teens, make sure they know that the same standards of content and behavior that your family has established for playing video games also applies to viewing livestream gaming.
  • Use the same family guidelines for all entertainment. Watching livestream gaming is entertainment, like watching a movie. Use the same guidelines your family follows for movies and TV. Talk about acceptable language, behavior, and content and what to do if the livestream goes off track.
  • Practice quality control. Watch with them, and check in frequently.

5. Kids abusing other kids: a bitter but growing trend

It’s called “child-on-child harmful sexual behavior.” We often worry about older predators online or coaches targeting our children on sports teams. Rarely do we worry about an older sibling, cousin or nextdoor neighbor child. Unfortunately, child-on-child harmful sexual behavior is on the rise because of exposure to pornography.

When Heidi Olson, a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE), oversaw a research project at her hospital, they discovered that the biggest age range of perpetrators committing sexual assaults against children is 11 to 15Let that sink in for a moment.

A separate report from the UK showed that “up to 65% of sexual abuse experienced by children under 18 is perpetrated by someone under the age of 18.” (Barnardo’s, 2016, 15)

Here’s one heartbreaking story. Recently a desperate mom wrote to me because a 10-year-old boy, who she was watching during the summer, sexually molested her younger daughter. When the boy’s mother was confronted with the offense, she broke down and admitted that she had discovered “pornography of every kind” on her son’s tablet 3 weeks prior.

Before this incident, the boy had no inappropriate sexual behavior, and his mother didn’t think that her son had ever been sexually abused. However, it appears that after three weeks of viewing pornography, he felt compelled to act out sexually on another child.

Children are viewing pornography and then acting out on each other because they are wired to imitate what they see adults do. This is just another destructive and life-altering way that porn harms kids – both the child victims and the children who act out.

What parents can do to help keep kids safe:

  • Teach your children early what pornography is, why it’s harmful and how they can reject it.
  • Include the importance of never showing it to another child. In fact, showing pornography to a minor is illegal!
  • Be aware of the possibility of child-on-child harmful sexual behavior.
  • Teach kids about body safety boundaries, and be clear that the rules apply to anyone of any age, even their friends. For more, check out one of our all-time most popular posts: The 3 Big Red Flags of Child Abuse
  • Also teach kids to respect other kids’ body safety boundaries.

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6. Rated-R Muppet movies and deceptive cartoon porn

Animated cartoon shows started with Disney and were made for children. But now, more and more animated features have “adult” themes and content. That can get misleading for busy parents!

For example, the makers of the Muppets decided to create an R-rated film, The Happytime Murders (we’re pretty sure Jim Henson is rolling in his grave). You can look the trailer up on YouTube, but we’re not linking to it here.

Here’s an excerpt from the Rotten Tomatoes review of The Happytime Murders:

“They may look like the puppets your kids see on Sesame Street, made of colorful felt with sweet faces and kind, googly eyes. But be warned: The characters in The Happytime Murders aren’t here to teach your kids their ABCs and 1-2-3s. They’re too busy having sex, doing drugs, drinking in hot tubs and starring in porn videos – and they’re brought to you by the letter F, over and over again. That’s the gimmick in this extremely hard-R comedy: Seemingly wholesome characters take part in unspeakably unwholesome activities.”

Here’s another example – what if your kids asked it they could watch a fun cartoon about jr. high kids called Big Mouth on Netflix? Some busy parents might say yes without a thought. Hopefully that’s not you!

Big Mouth is an adult-rated cartoon show filled with vulgar language, graphic nudity, and even more seriously disturbing sexual conduct involving kids who are just 11 – 13 years old. And since it’s a cartoon, it naturally attracts young viewers. If you’ve got Netflix, make sure you’ve set up the parental controls.

Then there’s anime. My grown-up daughter really enjoys anime shows, but she has often stopped watching a series because sexually explicit material appeared after a few episodes. One woman I interviewed said that she started watching anime porn when she was young (because it wasn’t “real” porn), and then got addicted to it.

“Children looking for animated content could accidentally open a porn video. Or they could start searching for innocent videos and unintentionally end up on Web sites containing violent content, both of which could have a long-term impact on their impressionable and vulnerable minds.” Anna Larkina, Web-content analysis expert at Kaspersky Lab 

What parents can do to help keep kids safe:

  • Never assume that a show is safe because it’s animated. Check it out first!
  • Use the parental controls available for your cable TV or video streaming services.
  • If your child wants to watch an anime show, watch at least three episodes, including shows from later episodes.
  • Teach kids the some people want to trick them online by making pornography that looks like a fun kid’s cartoon. Practice what to do if they see anything like that.
  • Most importantly, help your kids understand why they don’t want that kind of content polluting their minds.

7. Cute kid hashtags make it easy for predators to find victims

Posting adorable, innocent photos of your kids on social media is just part of parenting today – but it can actually lead sexual predators right to your kids. One way predators search for compromising photos of children is through hashtags like #BathTime, #PottyTime and #PottyTraining. A few other hashtags that are favored by doting parents, but exploited by sex offenders are #NakedKids and #NakedBaby.

Predators not only target children with the intention of grooming them or tracking them down in person; they can also digitally change the photos into something terribly abusive.

Fake Photoshopped images have now evolved into altered Deepfake videos that are incredibly realistic. Deepfakes are videos that superimpose someone’s face onto someone else’s body – and you can hardly tell it’s a deception. Already there are way too many people using it to swap a non-consenting person’s face onto a porn performer. These face-swaps create obvious problems for exploitation, and could be used for blackmail and harassment. Even of kids.

“The potential harm in over-sharing private moments far outweighs the benefits, as social media is now a digital playground for dangerous pedophiles to steal and turn innocent photos of children into exploitative content with irreversible and lasting damage,” said Carly Yoost, Founder and CEO of Child Rescue Coalition.

What parents can do to help keep kids safe:

  • Keep private moments private, and don’t use hashtags that could put your kids in danger.
  • Just as we warn teens to think twice before sharing inappropriate pictures, we need to remember that when we post a photo of our child we lose control of where it goes or how it is used.
  • Child Rescue Coalition says before sharing your child’s image on social media, ask yourself:
    • Why am I sharing this?
    • Would I want someone else to share an image like this of me?
    • Would I want this image of my child viewed and downloaded by predators on the Dark Web?
    • Is this something I want to be part of my child’s digital life?

Conclusion

Parenting in the digital age requires reliable intel and constant vigilance. The good news is that proactive parents really can stay informed about the dangers, stay in tune with their kids, and put protective measures in place.

Remember this simple formula:

  1. Filter and monitor the areas under your control.
  2. Help your kid install an internal filter so they CAN protect themselves in the areas you can’t control.
  3. Continue to have open and ongoing conversations about pornography, predators, and other dangers found in media.

Parent Alert! Monthly Updates

Every month we publish a Parent Alert! post to help you stay current with digital dangers. Stay ahead of the trends and share it with other parents! Their kids are your children’s friends and classmates. We’re all safer together!

Get your free Quick Start Guide for Proactive Parents and you will also get our Parent Alert! each month.

The Quick Start Guide has answers to these important questions:

  • Why are so many good kids getting pulled into pornography?
  • How can parents get more comfortable talking to their kids?
  • What are the benefits to tackling this subject early?
  • What EXACTLY do your kids need to know to stay safe from pornography in every situation?

Get your free copy by clicking on the image below: