Caregivers tell us they are both supportive and wary of their youth’s online involvement. Children, preteens, and teens go online to do homework, grab an Uber, socialize, play games, and find out information about any topic — from sports to babysitting jobs to dating and sex.
What Is Online Sexual Solicitation?
Online abuse, however, is more common than we might like to think, so it’s important to understand how it happens. According to several different research studies, between one in five and one in eleven youth (ages 10-17) have been sexually solicited online. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, females and teens (ages 14-17) are more likely to be solicited.
A sexual solicitation might be a simple request like “What are you wearing?” or “What is your bra size?” Or, it can be a more aggressive online solicitation where a child is invited to game at someone’s house — and that someone has ill intentions.
What Online Predators Need
The more a child uses the internet, the more likely they are to be solicited. For abuse to take place, online predators need access to and privacy with children, preteens, and teens.
Ninety-five percent of youth (ages 12-17) use social networking sites, and chat rooms, giving online predators tremendous access to minors. Even children under five are going online at least once a week.
With privacy and anonymity, predators engage youth across multiple media platforms, from chat rooms to gaming sites to instant messaging. In fact, according to one survey, 89% of sexual solicitations targeting youth were made in chat rooms or through instant message.
Gaming also allows for private interactions, and 97% of preteens and teens (ages 12-17) play online games.
While researchers are still learning about the nuances of online grooming behavior, solicitation may include direct requests for chat, information, sexual activity, in-person meetings, or exposure to sexual materials.
Who Online Predators Target
Based on research by the leading experts in child sexual abuse prevention, predators seek youths with a history of sexual or physical abuse who post sexually provocative photos or videos, who talk about sex online with people they do not know, and/or who feel alienated or alone. Boys who are gay or who are questioning their sexual orientation are also vulnerable if they seek out information and connection online.
What Constitutes of Risky Online Behaviors
Predators specifically look for kids who engage in four risky online behaviors.
- Communicating with unknown people.
- Sharing personal information with unknown people. More than half of all teens have given out personal info online to someone they don’t know, including photos and physical descriptions.
- Talking about sex online.
- Meeting online friends in the outside world.
Even youth who are not engaging in risky behaviors can be vulnerable in the “Wild West” of the online world. Seventy percent of kids (ages 8-18) have encountered pornography online accidentally, sometimes by entering a seemingly benign search term as part of a homework assignment.
Explore More About Protecting Your Young Person Against Sexual Solicitation
Learn how to help protect your preteen or teen online. BLOOM is here to help, whether you are looking for tips on talking with your kids about internet safety, tech security tips to protect them online, or even in-depth and personalized Q&As and workshops. Raising young people is hard enough. We are here to help demystify and provide support!
This article was originally published on Feather Berkower, LCSW, and only minimally edited for clarity. Read the article in its original publication.
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