Online dating is all the rage these days. Go into any popular dating spot and you're bound to find the majority of couples there met via the internet -- whether through an app, a website, or a personals board. And who can blame them? After all, online dating is a great way to meet people you might not have had the opportunity to encounter. Plus, it's less stressful and easier to back out if you get the creeps from someone you meet.
But not everyone has the best judgment when it comes to meeting people -- especially teens and kids. Because of this, a number of predators are making use of dating apps and social media to lure underage children into sordid relationships. Plus, thanks to anonymous surveys and self-deleting message apps like Snapchat, the epidemic is becoming harder and harder to monitor.
For a clear example of the dangers your kids face online, take this nightmare scenario from Georgia. A 13-year-old girl was lured into a relationship with a man 17 years her senior -- and when the police came knocking, he threw his victim out the window of his car and injured her! Learn how police caught this predator, and how you can set your kids up for safety and success online.
Stranger danger is real
According to this report from Fox News, a 30-year-old man from Georgia was in the middle of a high-speed police chase when officers saw what they thought was a part of the vehicle fly through the air.
As it turns out, though, the object wasn't an object at all -- it was a person. A 13-year-old girl, specifically. Following the suspect's capture at the end of the chase, investigators found that the girl in question was the "girlfriend" of the man, who had apparently thrown her from the moving vehicle during the chase's climax.
On impact, the girl apparently suffered injuries to both her arms and legs. Worse yet, the man confirmed to the officers that he and the girl had been "hooking up" since they met online.
He initially told deputies he believed the girl to be 18, but examinations of the couple's text messages contained an instance of him referring to the girl as "my 13-year-old doll." The man has since been arrested and charged with assault and battery, and sexual exploitation of a minor.
Are my kids safe online?
This story is a cautionary tale to anyone thinking of turning a blind eye to their children's internet activities.
In every case like this one, a predator manages to groom their victims for exploitation under the pretense of love, dating, or social clout. These are common tactics that are highly effective on children, so the best defense for your own kids is to make sure they're well aware of the dangers of talking with people they don't know online.
Kids, first off, should be informed that talking to strangers is incredibly dangerous -- even if they're not in front of their faces. As for meeting people, that's something that can wait until they are adults. There's no reason to meet up with anyone they've met online unless it's with the supervision of a parent in a highly public location.
A great thing you can do to set your kids up for internet success is to have them sign our Tech Safety Contract for Parents and Children. This handy form outlines best practices for online behavior and can help keep your kids accountable when exploring the internet.
You are the strongest barrier defending your children from the wide-open internet. Make sure that your kids know it too, and encourage them to talk to you if they see or hear anything scary or questionable. Open communication, after all, is one of the best safety techniques in the world.
FBI warns sextortion scams targeting teens is on the rise; how to protect your kids
A number of bad actors are taking advantage of their anonymity to hurt some of the most vulnerable people on the internet: our kids. Now, government agencies like the FBI are stepping up their game and warning parents about the dangers of child predators and sexploitation online. It's taken its battle against online predators public and wants everyone to know what to watch out for. Here's what they said, as well as how you can protect your kids from the worst people on the internet.