Warning Signs of Grooming by an Internet Predator

This article was written by Jenny Evans and was orignally posted on the KidZafe.com blog.  It is reprinted here with permission.

Most people your child meets on the Internet will be harmless, but there’s still danger in making friends online. Child predators use the Internet to meet children and form relationships with them, the end result of which is to molest or abuse them in the future. This process is known as “grooming,” and it’s vital that you recognize grooming while it’s happening, so you can stop it before it goes too far.

Predators groom children by lending a listening ear, making them feel special, treating them “like a grown up,” introducing sexual speech or pornography to make such acts seem more acceptable, encouraging secrets, and introducing them to other adult behaviors like drinking and doing drugs.

Sexual grooming by an online predator is surprisingly hard to notice, and children may be committed to protecting their secret relationship with their “new friend.” Some warning signs that your child may be being groomed by an online pedophile are:

  • Secrecy, especially about Internet activity
  • Unexplained appearance of new gifts – especially cell phones, jewelry, or expensive items
  • Appearance of pornography, especially child pornography, on their phone or computer
  • Strange names in their social networking “friends list”
  • Suspicious new contact information in their cell phone
  • Edgy new behavior, dress, language, makeup, or appearance
  • Skipping school
  • New risky behavior (drugs, smoking, alcohol, etc)
  • Sudden interest in or knowledge of sexual or age-inappropriate topics
  • Loss of interest in real-life friends or distance from family
  • Changes in mood, especially after being online

Sometimes it’s difficult to tell these grooming warning signs from typical teen behavior. But if several are present at once and the behaviors have not previously been problems, there is most likely something besides normal adolescent turbulence going on.

Jenny Evans is a mother of three and a freelance writer specializing in parenting, childhood, and family issues.

Are You Smartphone Smart? Protect Your Children in a Digital World

Many of my teen clients have smartphones and are very adept at using them.  However, there are some things they don’t pay much attention to.  One of those things is Geotagging.  I learned about Geotagging because I try to keep up with the issues regarding internet and cell phone safety.  Not knowing about Geotagging can endanger not only your teens, but your entire family.

Geotagging is a feature on any device that has a GPS chip in it.  It is the technology that embeds all the details about where and when a photo is taken.  It includes the coordinates that would allow a predator to locate where your family lives or the places they frequent when a photo is shared.  As I understand it, it is accurate to within 15 feet of the location where the photo is taken.  With a few smarts regarding GPS technology, a predator can extract the embedded information fairly easily.

Not all smartphones have the Geotagging feature turned on, but you should check to make certain.  If it is on, you need to manually turn off the Geotagging feature.  On some phones, the phone will ask if you want to Geotag photos and because “tagging” photos on Facebook and Flickr is fun, kids often click on yes without understanding what they are agreeing to.

When you do disable Geotagging on your smartphone, be sure that you take care to target just the photos so you won’t also disable your direction finders and the feature that allows law enforcement to locate your child in case of emergency.

I hope you find this tip to keeping your children safe in the digital world to be helpful.   A moment of caution can prevent a lifetime of heartache.

Teen Video Sexting

Since I couldn’t have said this any better, I am reprinting this article by Jenny Evans from the KidZafe Blog.

Sexting used to mean sending nude or racy pictures to someone else’s cell phone, but today’s teens are upping the stakes with a new kind of sexting.  Sexting is evolving from pictures to video – and video sexts can be twice as dangerous and twice as risky.

Most parents know that sexting in any form carries a lot of heavy consequences, ranging from damaged reputations to criminal charges.  Once a sext is sent, the sender has no control over where it ends up or how it is used, and the image lives forever beyond their control to delete or destroy.  Possessing or distributing a sext of someone under 18 years old could also mean serious child pornography charges.

Video sexting has all these dimensions and more.  A picture is worth a thousand words, and videos are literally thousands of pictures in succession.  Video makes sexts more suggestive, more realistic, and more likely to go viral or appear on pornography and child pornography websites.

All the video chatting technology that our kids use to stay connected is a privilege, one which teens must use responsibly.  Before even considering handing your child a cell phone with texting or video capabilities, talk to your kids about your expectations for how it is to be used.  Follow up with regular monitoring to make sure house rules are being observed.

(See the Kids’ Internet Safety Page to learn more about KidZafe, a powerful tool to help you protect your children from predators, bullies and keep their online reputation safe).

Monitor Your Kids’ Internet Use without Spying

Reposted with permission: posted by jevans on May 23, 2010 for KidZafe.blog.

(I don’t often post entries that someone else has written. However, Jenny Evans has said this as well or better than I could have and with her permission, I didn’t have to reinvent this information. I hope you find it useful. Please contact me if you would like more information about a fantastic, easy to use parental monitoring system that will protect your kids online and on their cell phones.)

So you’ve had the Internet safety conversation with your child: no giving out personal information online, no talking to strangers in chat rooms, and no sending elicit photos or texts. What next?

As a parent, you need to monitor your child’s online activity to make sure that your teen or tween is actually following the rules you’ve already discussed. That’s not spying – it’s parenting. When you give a curfew of 11 P.M., you don’t go to bed at 9:30 and assume your teen will get home safely because you’ve already discussed it. You stay up until they get in (which is, hopefully, before curfew time) – just to make sure they’re following the rules that will keep them safe.

It’s much the same with online activity. Parental monitoring can put a swift end to situations that could potentially become dangerous to your child.

How else will you know when a strange new “friend” appears on your child’s MySpace page? Or when they are approached by an anonymous stranger in a chat room?
Here are some statistics that point to the need for parental monitoring of your kids’ online activity:

• Three in five teens say having personal information or photos on a public site is unsafe and one in four say they know someone who has had something bad happen to them because of information posted electronically. Despite this fact, half have posted photos of friends and three in five have posted photos of themselves (2009 study by Cox Communications and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children).
• About one in five teens have engaged in sexting – sending, receiving, or forwarding sexually suggestive nude or nearly nude photos through text message or email – and over a third know of a friend who has sent or received these kinds of messages. (2009 study by Cox Communications and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children).
• More than 70% of young people talk to strangers online (According to a Dateline survey)
Look at your tween or teen’s friend list on their social networking sites, and make it a point to read their messages and posts on YouTube, MySpace, or a personal blog. Are you worried about invading your child’s privacy? You can’t invade privacy where there isn’t any, so any public Internet activity (like the ones I’ve listed above) is your right and responsibility to monitor.

What about private communications, like personal texts, emails, and private chats? That’s also something you need to monitor – but how and when you do it is between you and your child. That’s right, it doesn’t have to be a secret. In fact, it’s more effective if it’s not. Just letting kids know that you’ll be randomly viewing their texts or chat logs will significantly change the way they act online. The point of monitoring is not to “catch” kids doing something bad on the Internet, but to deter them from dangerous online behavior in the first place.

As a parent, you also need to take advantage of solutions that monitor your child’s online activity. Because you can’t be sure you will see risky activity or risky contacts, services like ours can help you to keep a watchful eye on your kids – not to spy on them, but to keep them safe. To be candid, you need to be looking out for dangers your kids are not equipped to handle alone.

Kids encounter all kinds of dangerous situations in life, and depend on their parents to keep up with what they’re doing and keep them safe. Whether it’s putting up a baby gate to keep a toddler from falling down the stairs or keeping a watchful eye as they play in the yard or monitoring a child’s Internet and mobile phone activity to protect them from cyberbullies and child predators, it’s all a day in the life of a parent.

11 Teaching Spirituality to Children Encourages Deeper Connections and Reduces Stress in the Family

Teaching our children to be spiritual beings is a great way to develop a deeper connection with them.  This deeper connection can create harmony and reduce stress within the family.  Children want to know who they are and that they have a connection to something greater than themselves, whether that be God, the universe, nature, the force or whatever you want to call it.

I think that I am luckier than most because although I grew up with one particular religion in my family, my parents let me experience other religions and encouraged me to learn about other cultures and beliefs.  I’ve read the old and new testaments and the books of almost every major religion on the face of the planet. I grew up with Native American friends and learned many wonderful things from them about nature and being connected.  One tribal story teller told me of the march of the plains Indians to the Florida everglades.  He said that the army believed that those who did not die along the way would soon die in the swamps because they had no experience in the swamps and would be ill prepared to survive.  He said that what they did not understand is that if you are connected to nature, you are connected to nature no matter where you find yourself and nature and the spirits will tell you how to survive.  Those Indians integrated into the Seminole Tribes and flourished in the Everglades.

What fascinated me most when learning about other religions and beliefs was how alike they all are.  I discovered that underlying the basic tenants of almost every major religion on the planet are the teachings of Hermes Trismegistus, the Master of Masters of ancient Egypt.  The knowledge of the Law of Attraction comes from the Hermetic Principles.  Learning all these new things gave me a better, deeper understanding of my own religion.  And I’ve never lost that sense of connectedness with Everything and my wonder with the world around me.

Children are actually born spiritual and they retain that until they start school where that aspect of their being is altered by the rules, the curriculum and the beliefs of their teachers and peers.  Before school they tend to live in the present moment, they love unconditionally, they don’t know to believe their thoughts, there’s no competition, and like sponges, they soak up everything they come in contact with.

There are many things that you do with children and teenagers to help children remain connected to their spirituality, none of which conflict with any religious beliefs in your family.  Here are a few ideas:

Create a gratitude journal.  Every day, preferably in the morning, everyone in the family should write down at least one thing they are grateful.  It can be anything from being happy to be alive, to thanking another family member for something they have done for them.  Or have everyone state what they are grateful for during dinner.  It’s a great conversation starter and creates a closer bond between family members.

First thing in the morning have everyone in your family set their intention for the day.  This is an important practice in the Law of Attraction.  Teach them what an intention is, have them state their intention, for example, I intend to be mindful in school today, or I intend to have a happy day.

Have a guided meditation before bed to calm everyone down and put them in the space to have good dreams.  Include setting an intention to remember their dreams prior to the meditation.

Practice yoga together or take a family Tai Chi class.

Explore nature together: teach children about transformation by learning about butterflies; teach them about interconnectedness of life by talking about eco-systems while hiking in the forest or the desert or playing on the beach; teach them about conservation by picking up trash wherever you are.

The ways to nurture spirituality in children is endless, limited only by your imagination.

 

2 COMMUNICATION: A KEY TO GOOD PARENTING

While I was trying to decide what to write about today, I became frustrated because I kept coming up with all these “how to cope with” ideas.  I didn’t really want to write a blog post about that today.  So I took a break to read an article I’ve been wanting to read about Quantum Psychology that focused on eliminating “isness” which included all forms of the word “is” or “to be” from our language.  The article included examples of how to eliminate “is.”

John is unhappy and grouchy    to     John appears unhappy and grouchy in the office

John is bright and cheerful         to     John seems bright and cheerful

That is a bad idea                       to     That seems like a bad idea to me

Bread is better than crackers    to     I prefer bread to crackers

As I was reading this article, it occurred to me that this concept can be used to become a better parent.  “Isness” is judgmental.  Just because we perceive John to be unhappy and grouchy, doesn’t mean that John is feeling unhappy and grouchy in the way we think.  John might be affected by poor lighting in the office, or poor air circulation, or some other thing that we aren’t aware of.  Maybe John ate a high carb sugary breakfast and his blood sugar dropped.  We really don’t know.

If we apply this principal to our children, it seems to me that we would save ourselves from a lot of negative interactions and be more productive, thereby eliminating a lot of stress in the family.

For example, if your child appears to be whining and you don’t know why, rather than tell him “I hate it when you whine” try, “You seem irritated by something, can you tell me what you need?”

Of if they appear to be in a bad mood or angry instead of “Don’t take your bad mood (anger) out on me,” try, “You seem to be in a bad mood (angry), did something happen?”

In this way, we are not judging our kids, we are not telling them how they feel.  We are telling them how we perceive them at that moment and opening a door to allow them to communicate to us how they are feeling or what is going on with them at that moment.  Modeling nonjudgmental communication is a great way to teach your children, especially your teenagers, a more productive way to communicate that makes deeper connections possible.

4 Teaching Children Skills and Self Reliance Through Positive, Stress Free Discipline

Years ago I heard someone say that you are robbing your kids when you do things for them that they can do themselves. In all my years working with children and teens I have found this to be a true statement. Keep in mind that children want to please us, they want to be helpful and they want to feel useful. It’s never too early to teach self reliance to your children.

I have very strong and happy memories of standing on a chair next to my mother in the kitchen helping her to prepare dinner, bake or help with the dishes. She would let me stir whatever was in the bowl and put the spoon in the sink. I put the chopped vegetables into the salad bowl, or filled the muffin cups or some other small chore. She would ask me if I wanted to put the clean dishes in the drainer after she washed them, and when I got older, I got to dry the dishes, and when I learned how to do it properly, I was allowed to wash the dishes.

I recall feeling so grown up and was so proud of my accomplishments. My mother would always ask me if I wanted to help her rather than tell me I had to do something, even when I was a teenager, I was asked if I wanted to help; I always did want to help my mother. That is true discipline. Discipline is to teach; it is preventive and it is future oriented, meaning that you want your children to learn how to think for themselves and be responsible for themselves in the future when they find themselves in similar situations.

In this manner, my mother taught me about kitchen hygiene, organization, time management, awareness of hazards in the kitchen, how to cook and bake and so many other things. I loved to go the grocery store with her. I learned comparison shopping, how to choose the right size box or can, how to pick ripe fruit and the best vegetables. It was my job to find the brands she was looking for and when I could reach it, I could take it off the shelf and put it the shopping cart.

Helping my mother was a wonderful experience that I always looked forward to. More than feeling a sense of accomplishment, I got to spend quality time with her and learn from her. Those are some of my most precious childhood memories.

Give your children the opportunity to learn from you by inviting them to be your helper. Don’t just push chores onto them and expect them to be happy or learn much, and don’t do for them what they can do for themselves. Are you going to continue doing their laundry when they are grown? Are you going to prepare meals for them when they move away from home? If they don’t learn when they are young and at home with you, when will they learn and who will teach them?

This is about an attitude and decision on your part as the parent or caregiver. If you don’t already do these things with your children, then change your approach, adjust your attitude about it and become the teacher, mentor, and coach they need you to be. This is positive, stress free discipline at its best.

Teaching Responsibility and Accountability

Parents need to start early to promote a system of responsibility and accountability for actions in their home. James Lehman calls it a “Culture of Accountability.”  Within that culture each family member is responsible for their own actions and behaviors.  They must follow the rules, meet expectations and be responsible for how they respond to frustrating or stressful situations.  Parents must be good roles models.  Talk to your kids about what it means to be responsible and accountable.  Explain what happens when they aren’t.

Start with house rules.  For example, no violent behavior like hitting and spitting, no calling your siblings names, clean up after yourself before bedtime.  Use whatever rules work for your family and your own peace of mind.

When kids break the rules, don’t allow them to blame others for what they did because no matter what happened, everyone is responsible for their own actions.   As I mentioned before, make sure the children know what the consequence is for their actions and be consistent in following through with the consequence.  I often provide children with the opportunity to determine what the consequence should be; they are usually harder on themselves than I would be.  This gives them the ability to take accountability for themselves, leaving you without having to be the heavy.

When a child breaks a rule, keep in mind that he may know what he should not do, but he may not always know what he can do.  Be sure to take time to provide alternative ways to act, otherwise, you’ll see repeated behavior and wonder why your child “doesn’t get it.”

We want to teach our children to make good choices.  The way to do that is to provide opportunities for them to make choices.  I suggest giving them three alternatives to choose from.  For example, “you can do your homework immediately upon getting home from school, you can do your homework as soon as we are finished with after dinner chores, or you can do your homework instead of watching television before you go to bed.”  They get experience of making decisions and having to live with what they decide.  You provided the choices, so they can’t make a poor choice.  It’s a win-win situation.

Children become confused when they don’t know what the expectations are, confusion leads to frustration and insecurity which results in negative acting out.  Children who are meeting our expectations, who follow the rules and receive positive feedback for that are confident and happy because they know exactly what is expected of them and where they stand with you.

Stress Free Discipline Strategies

Discipline doesn’t have to be stressful.  Discipline is meant to teach children to take responsibility, to make choices and to be accountable for those choices.  As a matter of fact, the word discipline comes from the Latin root discere, which means to learn and from the Latin word disciples, which means pupil.  So to be a disciplinarian, you need to be a teacher.

I believe that there’s never a need for physical punishment as that only teaches negative lessons such as it’s okay to hit people smaller than you and that violence solves problems.  The word punishment comes from the Latin word punier, which means to cause pain.  Hitting a child may immediately stop their behavior, but it doesn’t teach them anything worthwhile.

Through a strategy of positive discipline techniques, children will learn self-control, self-respect and to be responsible for the choices they make.  In the parenting classes I teach, we talk about discipline as being preventive and future-oriented in addition to being a response to unacceptable behavior.  As the disciplinarian you need to focus on what you want your child to do when they find themselves in a similar situation in the future.

The first step toward achieving that is by creating appropriate consequences and making sure your child knows what those consequences are.  For example, you want your child to put their toys away when they are done playing with them.  Here’s an easy strategy to make that happen by employing a few simple techniques:

•Model the behavior you want.  Have a designated place where the toys should go.  You pick up the toy and place it in that specific place.  Repeat this a few times over the next couple of days so your child can see the behavior you want from them.  Then move on to guiding and supervising your child into putting the toy away just as you did.

Each time you do this exercise explain they have to put the toy away if they want to play with it again.  The younger the child, the more patient you need to be.  After a few days, it should be enough to ask the child to put the toy away.

If the child doesn’t put the toy away as asked, then don’t allow them to play with it the next time they ask.  Explain to them that they did not put the toy away when they were asked so they can’t play with it right now.  Be sure to make the time they can’t play with the toy appropriate.  I suggest between one and two hours for very young children, two to four hours for elementary school aged children and one day or evening for older kids.  Children need to learn that they can have another chance to get it right after having made a bad choice or mistake.  When you allow them to have the toy again, remind them that they have to put it away in order to be able to play with it the next time.

•Use positive reinforcement when they put the toy away.  This requires consistency on your part, especially for younger children.  This can be anything from positive praise to rewards.  I don’t recommend rewards be used often as we don’t want children to do things only because there is a treat when they do.  That doesn’t teach them responsibility.

One good technique is to use what is important to your child as currency.  For example, a co-worker I once had told me her three year old son loved McDonald’s Happy Meals.  She saved a French fry box from the meal and used clothespins to represent the French fries.  Each time her son put his toys away, she put a “French fry” in the box.  Consequently, if he didn’t put the toys away she took a “French fry” out of the box in addition to not allowing him access to the toy the next time he wanted it.

He had to earn one French fry for each day in order to be able to have a Happy Meal on the weekend. She taught him to count the number of fries he needed to get that Happy Meal and he came to understand when he didn’t have enough fries.  She provided the opportunity for him to earn back the fry by time the weekend came around by completing some other chore.  She said that more often than not, he had enough fries to get his Happy Meal.

You can also use behavior charts with stickers to keep track.  It is helpful and makes a bigger impact if children have a visual way to track their behavior so they can start thinking about how to earn those points back to get what they want.  This helps children develop logical thinking as well as learning to make good choices.

•For older children you can also include what we call the This for That Rule.  This rule reinforces the lesson that there is an expected order of behaviors and a logical way to earn privileges.  For example, children have to finish their chores before they can play outside, or they have to finish their homework before they can watch television.  In our example of putting the toys away, they can have what they want only after they put the toy away.

Using these methods takes the stress out of discipline.  It puts the responsibility on the children and teaches them valuable lessons at the same time.  Remember, discipline is more than just reacting to children’s negative behaviors.

Avoiding Power Struggles With Your Teenagers

Simply stated, a power struggle is when two people want the same power and neither one of them has a firm grip on it.  Power struggles with teens are not uncommon as they are in that stage where they are trying to have more control over their life.  They are learning to separate themselves from others as an independent person which often causes them to test their limits.  It is your responsibility, as the adult, to diffuse the situation in a calm manner.  The KEY to avoiding power struggles is to not become engaged in one in the first place.  However, if you do find yourself in a power struggle here are some tips to successfully disengage:

•      Immediately stop arguing and try to remain emotionally cool and calm.  This will end the power struggle because without anger, your teen will have no one to fight against.

•      Let go of the idea that you can make teens do anything.  You can’t force cooperation.  Instead, inspire, teach, influence, lead, guide, motivate, stimulate and encourage positive, cooperative behavior.

•      When disengaging, you need to act, not speak.  For example, a temper tantrum becomes ineffective and silly if you withdraw to the other room without giving in to the temptation to slam any doors on your way out.  If you are outdoors, just walk away a few yards.

•      After you have both had a time out and a chance to cool off, you can talk about solving the issue that caused the power struggle in the first place.  Never underestimate the importance of saving face for kids of all ages.  Always talk to teenagers with respect and offer them choices and/or good reasons for them to cooperate.  Try to find ways for your teen to go along with what you want without leaving them feeling humiliated or too exposed.  Offer them choices – if a teenager feels personal power through choices, then they don’t feel the need for power through conflict.

•      Deflect arguments using two powerful words: “regardless” and “nevertheless.”  This approach is an easy way to assert yourself without getting into an argument.  For example, your teen wants to stay out past her 11 p.m. curfew for a Saturday night party and you don’t want her to.  After she presents her argument that all her friends will be at this party and they are all being allowed to stay late, reply with “regardless, you need to be home by 11 p.m.”  When she continues on with her argument, your next response should be, “nevertheless, you need to be home at your usual time.”  Keep doing this until her arguments run out of steam.  You will use this effectively if you don’t deviate too much from the one statement by adding unnecessary comments.   Eventually she will realize that you aren’t arguing with her and there’s nothing to be won.

•      Humor and playfulness that is not seen as mocking or shaming can be very helpful during power struggles.  If you are not comfortable using humor, do not.  Often, what is intended as humor feels like sarcasm and that only adds fuel to the conflict.

After a power struggle is not the time to use discipline.  The teen not getting what they wanted from the argument is consequence enough.  Keep in mind that teens need to learn to express themselves and they need you to listen so give them the opportunity to have their say before you say “no” in the first place.

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