You know the times when a seemingly well-meaning online acquaintance suddenly starts to get too close for comfort? When someone you barely know on Twitter suddenly asks you if they can have your phone number? When you can a private message in your facebook inbox that says, “Hey! I liked your profile picture so I copied it, can I have some more?” and you go like “Whaa?!”
Well, then you most probably know what an online stalker and online predator is. Almost all of us, regardless of gender, have had similar experiences and many people I know have their own little set of warning signs that they use to detect such people. What about young children?

Now just how many of these under 17 year olds have lied about their age to surpass the “must be over 13” limit?  We don’t know. The point is, most of these children, both male and female, are highly prone to online predators. While grownups have learnt to deal with the issue by using signs, warnings, specific behaviour etc to detect an online predator, many children have not. Children, even if they are 15 or 16 years old, sometimes do not have the experience or the knowledge to perceive and then protect themselves from these dangers.

Recently, I was alarmed by a small incident on my twitter timeline that compelled me to write this post. I received a random @mention tweet saying “Hello, nice dp” from someone I don’t know and do not follow. As usual, I checked out the person’s profile and boy was I shocked! He was apparently trying to entice a young girl into talking dirty! Over tweets! And, he wanted her to MMS him her pictures. All over tweets. The most shocking of them was this tweet: “Are you hot?” Thankfully, the child had refused to send him pictures, not without a cute giggle however. (Yes, you can do that on tweets). I was shocked, enraged and ready to annihilate the idiot. Eventually, I got the child to block him and report him for spam. My little twitter army of friends did the same.
(If all this twitter jargon is too much for you and you don’t know what I’m talking about, please Google it. Thank you.)
What is worth noting in all this is the fact that the child had no idea whatsoever how to deal with it. She was uncomfortable, as she said later on, and did not like the kind of things he was saying, but did not know what to do or say. In my mind, this is a failure on the part of the parents. I’m sure most parents would be horrified at the idea of sending a child out into a jungle, unarmed and unprotected, but how many times do we let them out into the world wide web similarly unarmed and unprotected? How do you let young immature children out into all those social networks with so many beasts ready to hunt them down without equipping them with any form of protection?

According to a study about media and its use that I saw here, children’s use of the various social networks has increased over the years. As parents, older siblings, uncles, aunts and teachers, we all have a responsibility to protect OUR children from these people. When was the last time you talked to your children about online risks? Did you tell them what they should do if they ever get an uncomfortable vibe from an older person? Does your child even know how to detect an uncomfortable vibe? Hmph! I’m not talking to all you parents anymore. You should have known what you were getting into before you started breeding like rabbits!

Alright kids, this is for you. Do you know that kind man or woman  who seems to be all nice to you? Yes, the same one who asks you how many people live in your house and where you go to school. Please, block them. Here is a list of some signs you can watch out for to help you understand if someone is dangerous. (And all you lazy parents who buy your kids the latest gadget so your kid can always be connected, add your suggested signs in the comments please. Do something at least!)
1. Private Message: Hey! This new picture is awesome!
Kids, if you ever get a random message from someone you don’t know and who is definitely way older than you are, please ignore it. No matter what the network, twitter, Facebook, MySpace etc, this person means no good. (Do I sound like Ted Mosby yet?)
2. Friendly, caring and cool:
Now, kids, not all adults are perverts, but that doesn’t change the fact that there’s a large number of them out there. Sometimes, you find this one person on twitter or Facebook or whatever other social network you kids use nowadays and he/she seems like the perfect best friend. They will listen to all your stories, sympathize with you when your mom or dad don’t understand where “you’re coming from” and even send you a gift on your birthday. I bet they also listen to the same kind of music you do and like the same kind of food. And I bet they hate being told what to do too. Right?

This person, especially if it is a stranger and you only know them online, is someone you should be very careful about. Do not, ever, in your wildest dreams, agree to meet up with them. You may think it’s cute and sweet when they comment on your pictures on Facebook or send you little funny messages that make you feel like a grown up. Some people may even be genuinely nice, but you have to be careful. I would suggest you talk to your parents about someone like this. Yes, parents, no matter how irritating they can be sometimes, they really care and are most probably your best bet when it comes to getting rid of buggers.
Think about it, kids. Why on earth would an adult be interested in your little problems? Who cares if you broke up with so and so and your friend said this and did that? The only people who actually do care, even if they don’t have the time to tell you so or show it, are your parents. Seriously, these guys seem to have nothing else to do but care about you little people. Get a life, eh? Watch and learn, kids, watch and learn. (Uh oh, that sounded like Barney Stinson!)
3. Get Personal:
  • So, uh, how many sisters do you have?
  • What does your dad do?
  • What school do you go to?
  • Oh, I live in the same area, what apartment is yours?
  • Oh, that school? What time do you get off school?
  • Really?
  • “Hey this picture is really cute, how about you change into something comfortable and take another one?” (Yes, sadly, I have seen this one. From a forty year old to a child barely 13 years old. And it was sad. Very sad.)
  • Back from school?
  • What are you going to wear?
  • What are you wearing right now?
I could go on forever, well, ok not really. But you get the idea. Seemingly harmless questions like the above are really your pervert online friend’s way of getting some highly perverted pleasure. *shudder*  While you think you are in control, it’s actually that person controlling you using his underhanded tactics. Now, you don’t like being manipulated and controlled do you?
4. Offers:

Gifts, pictures, online sleepovers (yeah, happens), exchange phone numbers and what not. Never click on links in chat messages or tweets or DM’s or private messages or… (God there are so many ways of getting to you guys!) Getting a virus into your computer is at the least dangerous end of things. You have no idea what that link might lead to. Maybe even a humungous man-eating giraffe with crazy Cookie Monster ideas. Brrr! Alright, may be not that, but you get the picture. People like this, usually try to lead you into watching porn and other eewy stuff with them so they can get you to meet them. Reminder: You don’t want to be controlled, do you? Be your own boss. You want to watch porn, well you shouldn’t, but if you do, do it alone without a weird smelly grownup online.
Do you really want to be free entertainment for a pervert who was most probably ditched by all his/her friends and now lives a lonely life in a garage or something?
What signs would you use to detect an online predator and what do you do to keep your child safe? I would love to hear about it.
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