If you have teens, or even for yourself, those natural internal red flags could save your life. For young people, though, their familiarity with social media might bypass some of those things we'd recognize as predatory, leaving them more vulnerable.
So what happened with me? I sold my hair online. If you've ever read The Gift of the Magi, you may sigh at my idea of selling my waist-long hair to buy Christmas gifts for my husband one year (yes, that really is why, and yes, I do love that story so it felt pretty cool doing it in real life). I had found a website where you could sell your hair, like selling an outfit on e-bay to people who use it to make wigs or dolls or whatever. I thought that was pretty exciting, so took pictures of my long, thick hair and posted them. No pictures of my face. No personal info.
|The 14 inches of hair I sold.|
I heard back from one guy who offered a certain amount and I was to send the hair to him after I got it cut according to his very specific directions.
I heard from another guy who offered more than double that other offer, and he liked to cut the hair himself, so could I meet him at his office after hours or at a hotel?
Red flag. I thought that was strange, but being new to this, I wondered if I was overreacting. When my husband came home, I had him read the message, and it wasn't unclear to him at all. Then I mentioned the price he offered to the other guy who wanted to buy my hair and he wrote back saying, "You don't know much about men, do you?"
Guess not. Not those kind of men anyway!
On to the next situation. This one wasn't so creepy, just some guy who wanted to friend me on Facebook. I get a lot of friend requests from people I've met at speaking events or who have read my books, so I accepted this guy's not thinking much it. Here's part of the message I got next...
...When i saw your profile,i was thrilled,every thing about you interests me,you look honest,caring,and above all you are beautiful.I want to have a communication with you and see where it leads us,do not mind the age difference as its onlya number while distance can be countered with a good communication...
Even if the grammar and punctuation hadn't been atrocious, the man's suggestions let me know I didn't want to be his friend after all. But then I think of young girls who might get a message like that, one that is well-written, accompanied by a picture of, say, a seventeen-year-old guy, who tells them they are beautiful, they could be a model, who feeds into their desire for worth and acceptance. In time, this new "friend," suggests they meet somewhere, emphasizing the appealing secrecy of their relationship, telling them not to tell anyone and to come alone.
Most of us would have red flags waving all over the place, but what if you're a girl in a lousy home situation, you desperately want to escape, and he's offering a way out? What if you're insecure and he makes you feel like you matter? What if whoever he is begins posing as a girl the same age and you've decided she's your best friend and the only person you can trust?
The internet has become a large playground for predators, and this is one of the ways trafficking happens.
This post isn't to scare you into never letting your kids touch a computer. However, it is to warn you what is out there, and hopefully give you some ways to avoid the dangers, such as:
1. From the beginning, make it clear with your children that you have access to every social media account your kids have. They'll think it's mean. Do it anyway.
2. Every once in awhile, check into their accounts, see what kinds of friends they have, what kinds of posts they make. For one, it will help you know them better, for another, it will give you a springboard of topics to talk about, and for another, you may feel those red flags in places they might not. I'd actually recommend doing this with them present, try to make it an opportunity to get to meet their friends and see what's important to them.
3. Care more about them than what they think of you. If it comes down to it, don't let them continue a dangerous behavior or friendship just because you don't want them mad at you. I think of that girl who got raped in Steubenville. Why were no parents mentioned in regard to that entire night? Did none of those parents care that their teens were in compromising positions? I don't know, but I wonder if there were worried parents all over town that night, who had allowed their kids to go to that party because they didn't want to say no and have their kids be unpopular or upset, hoping it would work out. It didn't work out.
4. Know what to do. The guy who wanted me to meet him in a hotel--I wanted to report him but had no idea how to, so I didn't. He probably moved on to someone more vulnerable, or who really needed the money, and fed his line to her. Please memorize the trafficking phone number (which didn't exist back then) and use it if you suspect any predatory activity. 1-888-373-7888
5. Point out situations and teach your kids to be aware, and what to do if they see something. A friend just yesterday told me she'd seen something at night in her small, nice little town. She described what she saw and right away I gave her the trafficking hotline. The thing that bothered her most was all the people who saw and moved on, not doing anything about it. People who don't know what to do often do nothing. Don't be that person when it comes to your teens.
That's all I have for the moment, but what about you? Any thoughts to add from your own knowledge and experience?