Lately, I’ve been having fake profiles request to follow me on social media. The profiles have ranged from obviously sketchy to seemingly real. I even chatted with a seemingly real “person” for a second, until I listened to my intuition, and it very quickly became clear that it was a scam.
And my brother was just telling me this weekend that his business has gotten lots of scam calls, texts, and emails lately as well.
We are both middle aged adults, who have fully developed brains, life experience, and the wherewithal to mostly avoid bots, fake profiles, and perverts online, but it’s exhausting having to constantly be on guard and parcel out who is real and who isn’t.
However, if this had happened to me when I was 12 or 13, it would be another story. If “cute” guys were wanting to follow me online at that age, I never would have considered it was fake or a scam or that something nefarious was going on. I would have been delighted, loved the attention, and fallen straight into a trap. And I was a kid with protective measures around me.
For kids today, they are forced to navigate stranger after stranger online, many of whom are inundating them with messages, follow requests, pictures, videos, compliments, pornography, threats, and so much more. And many are navigating these complexities in isolation. They often don’t tell their caregivers, teachers, or adults about what is happening to them online.
Not only are they navigating this alone, but many of our kids with vulnerabilities (kids without healthy attachments, kids who’ve been abused, who are in foster care, etc.) are targeted online at even higher rates by strangers, predators, and abusers.
In many ways, we have set kids up for failure by handing them phones with no parameters, guidelines, or education. All it takes is one semi believable profile to convince a kid to start talking to you, and instantly the grooming can begin.
There are so many children struggling with hopelessness, self-harm, who have been sexually assaulted, exploited, bullied, and are having major mental health issues, because of these online dynamics. Not only are kids being harmed online, but they are also being targeted by traffickers online.
For many children today, their grooming and entryway into the world of exploitation and trafficking starts online.
One of the most effective ways to protect kids is to have conversations about online safety.
For more information and resources visit REHOPE.org.