This post: Not My Child: How to Prevent Your Teen from Being a Victim of Online Sextortion
Written by: Jennifer Kelman
Yes… your child, or virtually any child, is a potential target for online predators.
As a mental health expert and licensed clinical social worker working with teens and families for more than 30 years, I often have friends and clients reach out to me inquiring what the latest challenges are that teens are facing.
While the list is long, (it’s not easy being a teenager in today’s world), I recall one particular conversation with a good friend and parent where we broached the subject of sextortion and how it’s impacting the online safety of teens.
Not My Child: How to Prevent Your Teen from Being a Victim of Online Sextortion
While I offered the mother a few harsh statistics and insight, I could hear her sigh of relief as she said, “Thank goodness… that’s not my child.”
Of course, I let her know how happy I was that her child hadn’t fallen victim to this terrible crime and how I hope her teen was safeguarding their online presence. I went on to remind the mom how important it is for her to have frequent, open, honest conversations with her teen about the perils of the online world and how danger lurks around every unsuspecting corner.
She responded by saying, “I prefer a free-range approach and trust that my daughter is doing what she knows to be the right thing since we have had conversations about it.”
My lips pursed, my shoulders stiffened, and I was relieved that we were talking by phone so my body language didn’t give away the worry that consumed me when I heard those words.
Free-range parenting is a wonderful thing. I think nearly every parent wishes we could go back to the days when kids would hang out with their neighborhood friends, ride their bikes to the local convenience store and stay outside until the street lights came on and their parents called them to come in. But sadly, our world isn’t what it used to be.
The harsh reality is, kids today are tethered to their cell phones with social media taking over the vast majority of their free time.
Less than a week after my call with my friend of many years, I received another call from her, but this time she was crying and I had a hard time understanding what she was saying through her sobs. I could hear the panic and the terror in her voice, but I could also hear her guilt and anger coming through as well. “I’m such a fool. How could I have been so blind to think my child was doing everything to keep herself safe online?”
I asked her to take a few deep breaths and reassured her that I was there to listen without judgment.
She told me that after we spoke, she thought about what I said and decided to have a serious conversation with her daughter about online safety. During the conversation, her daughter burst into tears and confessed how she had connected with someone on social media that she thought was a boy her age.
He asked her to send him a picture of herself without clothes, which she did. She soon realized it wasn’t a boy her age when they began to threaten her that if she didn’t send more photos of herself, they would show the photo to her family and all her friends.
The girl told her mother that she didn’t send any additional photos and immediately stopped talking with this person. She also told her mom how terrified she was every single day waiting for more threats or the release of the photo.
The stress of it all was causing her so much anxiety that she wasn’t able to concentrate in school. As for my friend, she was so upset with herself for being “clueless” about all of this. “Why are people so cruel?” she sobbed.
Thankfully, in this case, the mother caught the situation early before things escalated and got even more out of control. Still, it’s an experience that both of them will never forget…
The fact is, what my friend and her daughter went through is far more common than parents realize. So many teens are finding themselves being extorted for money, gift cards, bitcoin, and revealing photos. These teens are feeling alone, afraid, and ashamed to reach out to their parents for help. It’s crucial we talk with our kids about these crimes and provide a safe environment for them to open up if they find themselves ensnared.
How to Prevent This From Happening to Your Teen
1. Have Hard Conversations with Them
Educate them about the dangers of conversing with strangers online, even if they’re convinced the person is their age and it’s innocent dialogue.
2. Monitor Your Teen’s Cell Phone Use
Heads up, parents… that doesn’t mean you’re invading their privacy, it means you’re protecting them. You need to stay abreast of what your teen is doing online and restrict apps that are known dangers.
3. Tell Your Teen to NEVER Send Revealing Photos to ANYONE
Let them know that it’s never a good idea to send photos of themselves/body parts to others; even to their friends or current boyfriend or girlfriend. A lot of times an ex will threaten to share photos if they are upset about a break-up.
4. Keep Their Device Out of Private Spaces, Including Bedrooms
A lot can go on behind a closed door.
5. Let Your Teen Know They Can Come to You About Anything
Let your teen know that you are there for them and will support them without judgment if they find themselves in a tough spot.
What Steps to Take if Your Teen Has Been a Victim of Sextortion
1. Abort Contact with the Individual
2. Lock Them From All Accounts
3. Consider Deleting All Social Media Accounts
4. Document Everything
5. Never Give in to the Demands – They WILL Keep Coming
6. File a Police Report
7. Remain Judgment-Free When Supporting Your Child – They NEED You
8. Get Professional Help for Your Teen if They Become Anxious, Depressed, or Suicidal
Sextortion is a very real danger and becoming more prevalent. Talk to your kids about the dangers of online “relationships” and let them know you are there for them to help guide them and keep them safe.
About Jennifer Kelman: JustAnswer Mental Health Expert
Jennifer Kelman is a mental health expert on JustAnswer, where she has provided online support to those in need since 2012. In addition to her work on JustAnswer, Kelman has been a Licensed Clinical Social Worker for more than 30 years and maintains a private practice specializing in relationships, parenting, and children’s mental health issues. She is also a children’s book author having written three books that delicately weave in themes of trust, vulnerability, and hope in her stories. Kelman has lectured extensively around the country and appeared on news and television programs covering a range of issues including relationships, parenting, body image, eating disorders, and children’s mental health. For more information about Jennifer’s work on JustAnswer, visit https://www.justanswer.com/relationship/expert-therapistjen/.