Protecting Children and Teens From Online Dangers
It is believed that psychological trauma is a “hidden scar” as a result of events from the past. Individuals who go through negative experiences young, may not understand how they are responding, and may develop unhealthy coping strategies. There are several common trauma responses that are often seen in children and teens such as: changes in sleep or eating patterns, withdrawing, loss of interest in normal activities, acting out in anger or hypersexuality, and possibly even turning to use of addictive substances. Traumatic circumstances such as childhood sexual abuse, human trafficking, domestic violence in home, and bullying may result in shameful feelings for the child. Society has negative connotations around certain taboo subjects, and children are socialized to learn what these are very quickly.
As a clinical social worker treating child survivors of these traumatic events for 7 years, I have become very aware of the signs, and symptoms as well as the grooming techniques. Children of all gender identities could be targeted for their involvement and one of the most common ways to access children today is through the internet. The top 15 most used applications and websites for recruitment have been identified (article link: https://www.foxla.com/news/pasco-sheriffs-office-names-15-apps-parents-should-look-out-for-on-their-kids-devices). This list includes common applications such as SnapChat and Bumble. Online gaming communities have also become known for predatory activity, as the perpetrators will often lure a child off the initial website, onto a more personal communication platform.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (MCMEC) has published red flags to look out for (https://www.missingkids.org/theissues/onlineenticement) when allowing your children access to the internet. Parents and children should be wary of any communication with strangers online, but especially those who are immediately very friendly and offer gifts. Many perpetrators present themselves as younger than they are, and work to gain trust as quickly as possible. Typically, this is for the purpose of soliciting photos from the unsuspecting child. These pictures can then be used to disseminate across the internet as instances of child sexual abuse material, or used to extort the child for more material (referred to as sextortion).
This grooming and soliciting can escalate quickly and become overwhelmingly scary to a child. Whether they followed through with a request, need to learn healthy online engagement, or are a survivor of an internet related trauma, recovery is possible. I work with youth and teen populations through psychoeducation of risky behavior as well as trauma responses. I look to create empowering goals with my youth clients to build self-worth and independence, as well as repairing familial relationships damaged through trauma.
Over the past 7 years, I have worked with dozens of families to understand vulnerabilities, improve communication, and set internal boundaries. I have assisted youth clients with LGBTQ+ concerns, self-esteem, trauma, depression, and anxiety. I have specialized training in treating childhood trauma and am committed to meeting clients where they are and enhancing their process through supportive tools and strengths based guidance.
For more information on Monica Kristen, LSW, IIC please go to her LinkedIn Page.