CADILLAC — Summer is here and schools are out until the fall.
What that means is there is more time for children and teens to do a myriad of different activities such as hiking, biking, swimming, playing sports, going on vacations and simply being outside. It also might mean they have the opportunity to catch up on some of the movies and television shows they weren’t able to watch during the school year. It also could mean more time to play video games or surf the internet.
While all of those things typically are considered good things, the summer could also mean more opportunities for these same children and teens to get themselves into trouble with those looking to take advantage of them.
With that in mind, the Cadillac News reached out to Michigan State Police Trooper Marc Moore to talk about how parents can help to protect their children from becoming a victim of an online predator. Moore said how predators try to take advantage of children has changed but the way they do it has remained constant.
“I don’t know if there is anything new or cutting edge but I think it is the typical situation of individuals preying or taking advantage of the innocence or naiveté of children,‘ he said.
Much like a scammer does, someone looking to take advantage of a child or teen will look for something they can sympathize with or exploit something that might be a weakness of that child or teen, Moore said. This could include the child or teen not getting the attention they want at home, not having any friends or not being accepted into a certain social group, he said.
With that, Moore said the person will try to build trust and form a “relationship‘ with them. They also will get them to think they are treating them more like an adult or take their side if, for example, they are complaining about their parents or guardian. He said many times it doesn’t start with a talk about sex but it evolves into that type of discussion.
Social media is typically how these types of conversations begin but sometimes they begin on dating sites. Even if the child and teen are underaged they will be on dating sites out of curiosity, as a joke or because they are looking for attention.
In many circumstances, it is impossible for parents or guardians to be with their children all of the time and in some cases cell phones, tablets or computers are necessary for communication, Moore said. Technology is a positive thing but there are also negative things that can come with it.
“It is critical parents review their children’s phones. They have to get tech savvy and know how to search internet history,‘ Moore said. “They need to know what apps they should be looking for, be able to locate hidden apps that can be disguised on the phone and know they can look at anything that their children are doing on the internet.‘
Moore said there are apps that can be purchased limiting the amount of screen time and data usage and apps that send every text from a child or teen’s phone to their parents or guardian’s phone. You also may want to check with your internet or cell phone provider to see if they offer any programs or tools free of charge.
In many cases, Moore said he sees 13-15-year-olds as the primary targets but he also has seen cases that dealt with inappropriate activity directed at 8-9-year-olds.
Moore said if a child or teen is quickly closing windows on a computer, deleting browser history, trying to be discrete or are afraid to show you something they are doing, there is a reason why. That is probably a good time to check the phone or device and have a conversation with that child or teen.
“Do your best as a parent to talk about it with your kids. Don’t be afraid to discuss the topic, that you are aware this is going on and you want to keep them safe,‘ he said. “If they are old enough to utilize a device on their own the discussion should be had.‘
For those who don’t know, human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery. Victims of human trafficking are subjected to force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of commercial sex or forced labor. They are young children, teenagers, men and women. Trafficking in persons occurs throughout the world, including in the United States and Michigan.
The risk factors that are associated with human trafficking include abuse, neglect, drug use, poverty, and probably most importantly, demand. Without that final ingredient, there wouldn’t be a need for it, but people are seeking it out.