Trafficking: Online Kids

By Kersley Fitzgerald

I love the internet. I love being able to research church history, order clothes, and comment on a discussion without actually having to talk to people. I live on Facebook. I love getting pictures of my nephew and my sister's new cat. I have a desktop, a laptop, a second-generation Kindle, an iPad Mini, and a very dumb phone. My 13-year-old son has a Kindle Fire, an X-Box, and a Wii. No phone and extremely limited access to WiFi in the house. Why? Because far too often, he's quit a session of looking up MineCraft videos and left malware on our computer. How will he learn responsibility and discernment on the internet if he has such limited access to it? That's a backwards question. Let him learn responsibility and discernment in his real life first. Then I'll give him the matches.

There are many ways kids can be pulled into trafficking situations. The online world is especially insidious because it crawls into your home, past your locks and alarm systems, and head straight for your kids' bedrooms. One of the most important ways you can protect your kids is by controlling their access to the internet. It's essential for their hearts and their safety.

There's this cute little commercial for a smart phone where two women are watching a young boy and girl talk about what movies and apps they have on their phones. It makes me cringe. Yesterday, a friend in his 20s took the amazingly bold step to admit he's been addicted to porn since he was 9. He's not alone. In the real world, beautiful (and not-so-beautiful) bodies are connected to minds and words and thoughts. Online, bodies are too often merely associated with sex. And the only filter out there that will protect your kids is to not give them access to the internet without you looking over their shoulders. Even then — you'd never believe what JT and I found in Google Images when we searched for "continental congress."

I can't stress this enough. No internet in bedrooms. Keep the family computer in a common area. No tablet internet without supervision. (By supervision, I mean when your ten year old has to look up pictures for school report, you sit next to him and type in the search terms to Google Images.) Realize that with the prevalence of Wi-Fi availability, the only difference between phones vs. tablets and media players is you can get internet on phones in the car. All social media should be open, and you should have their passwords. Be conservative when it comes to multi-player gaming and the age of your kid. Know the ins-and-outs of your kids' electronic devices and how to set the parental controls. My friend uses Steam to limit who her 15-year-old son plays with online. Yes. 15-year-old. She knows what dangers could come if he were allowed to play and interact with strangers from around the world. JT, at 13, is not allowed to play multiplayer online games on his X-Box. The point of all of this isn't to limit their freedom; it's to give them a safe place to learn discernment.

Control over internet access is also essential for our kids' physical safety. There are predators who specialize in finding victims through social media. About two years ago, I got a call from a friend. After a spell of distractedness, she opened up her daughter's Facebook account and realized something was wrong. My friend knew that her daughter was involved in an art group on Facebook, and she knew of the man who had sent her daughter several private messages. But she had been out of the loop and didn't realize that the man was very obviously grooming her daughter. To the point of offering to take her on a trip to learn more about their artistic interest. My friend called me and asked what she should do. There are many resources she could have chosen from (see the link), but I sent her to the FBI. I'm glad to report that the man was identified, and her daughter is not only safe, she's looking into a career as a trafficking victims' advocate. This is not a unique situation, as an Alabama woman recently found out when she discovered a 19-year-old man living in her 13-year-old daughter's closet.

I don't mean to vilify Facebook. I had another friend whose daughter, many years ago, fell into a grooming relationship via the phone in her bedroom. Now smartphones and their apps are one of the most effective tools traffickers use to lure kids in. An article on gives a list of apps that are particularly effective. See the link for specifics, but it looks like the most dangerous are those that provide chatting, texting, and photo and video sharing anonymously. Many allow you to chat with or text random people; others allow you to share photos to the nearest 500 users in order to find a hook-up. Poof is particularly interesting in that it hides apps the phone-owner doesn't want seen on the home screen.

The easiest solution? Explaining to your 13-year-old that she does not need a smartphone. An older-generation phone will still call, text, and send tiny little photos without the dangerous apps. And then limit her phone use. Is there anyone she really needs to text at night? If not, take the phone. Allowing her a safe environment in which she can develop discernment is more important that her accessibility to games and YouTube videos.

One of the most common methods traffickers use is blackmail, or "sextortion." A momentary lapse of judgment, and a girl has lifted her shirt and sent a photo to a cute 14-year-old she's been flirting with. She doesn't know her "friend" is actually a married 35-year-old man. Soon the threats start coming — if she doesn't provide more, he'll tell her parents. Or harm her family. One girl fell into this trap when she lost (what she thought was) a casual bet. To pay her debt, the boys demanded a photo. To keep quiet about it, they demanded more.

The recent scandal where the photos of 100 actresses were hacked* highlights this. Many phones automatically back up photos to the cloud; even if you delete them off the phone, they're still out there. There are also popular apps like Snapchat where users can send a photo which disappears from the receiver's phone after a few seconds. People send pictures of themselves, thinking they won't exist for more than a glance. But all the receiver has to do is take a quick screen shot and the photo is saved for eternity. I see that parents can now spend $40/month to spy on their kids' Snapchat activities — why not just tell them they can't have Snapchat?

For more on internet safety, see Trafficking: Online Resources.

The internet may be the primary way in which our kids develop an unhealthy view of themselves, others, and sex, but it's not the primary way they're caught in trafficking. Next: Methods and Madness.

The Series:
Trafficking Statistics Analysis
At-Risk Kids
Online Kids

* You know those little things on Facebook that start out "Let's see which of my friends know me the best!" and then go on to say "What's my middle name" or "What's my favorite subject in school"? They aren't innocent memes — they're info-phishing methods and can be used to answer security questions during log-in.

Image Credit: Riccardo Palazzani; "The secrets of modern children"; Creative Commons

TagsChristian-Life  |  Controversial-Issues  |  Current-Issues  |  Family-Life  |  Sin-Evil

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Published 9-04-2014