The most dangerous place for our children is alone in their bedrooms

internet safety

It is clear from the reports of rising mortality rates among young people that our world is a dangerous place. Some of the leading physical causes of death are suicide, drug overdoses, crime and accidental injuries, but I contend that one of the most dangerous place for our kids is still alone in their bedrooms on internet-connected devices. I say this because this is how our children are being preyed upon and sexually exploited in such a way that it later leads to them becoming suicidal, running away, experimenting with drugs or becoming trafficked, among other symptoms that may appear later in life.

It seems no matter where you live in the U.S. there’s a news story every week about a teen who was lured away from home because of someone she met online. Many never return home or wind up being rescued from trafficking rings many years later. Even for those reunited with their families shortly after going missing, the mental and emotional trauma they have endured will haunt them for years. Once a victim is taken into human trafficking, only 1% are ever rescued. Online predation has increasingly become a venue for traffickers to connect with children.

Countless others are manipulated into sharing a naked selfie or a video of themselves engaged in an activity they may not even realize is sexual or exploitative. This keeps happening because our kids are often ashamed or afraid to talk to us about these things, and we as parents have failed in pro-actively initiating conversations about these issues. We may spout vague warnings about online safety, but we don’t take the time to educate our children about the predators’ methods or what the result could be from sharing what they think is a harmless photo. Then we wonder why our children fall into anxiety and depression, begin having trouble in school or begin acting out. With one out of three girls and one out of five boys being sexually abused, and one out of nine kids being approached by a predator online, this simply isn’t an issue we can ignore.

During National Child Abuse Prevention Month, I want to suggest five questions every parent should be asking their children regularly about their online activity, which in turn will open the door to real, authentic conversations about online “grooming:”

1. What type of content are you posting on social media? 

While we can’t always control what our children post online, we can help them understand what’s appropriate and what’s not, and what “oversharing” looks like. Ask them questions about what they’re seeing posted online and how it makes them feel. Openly discuss what type of message they want to put out there and what types of posts could put them at a higher risk.

In addition, you can help them understand that predators use location services and geotags to target their victims. Therefore, it is important that they never share their exact location on their social media posts. This is just one sneaky tactic traffickers use to become familiar with their victim’s habits and routines.

2. Have any strangers approached you online or asked to meet you in-person?

Oftentimes, predators will seek to befriend their victims online through direct messaging. Once they have established a trustworthy “relationship” with them, they may ask their victims to meet them in-person. Parents, I don’t have to tell you that this is a major red flag, so my advice to you is to ask this question often.

Be aware of who your children are speaking with online and if they have any plans to seek them out in person. Help your children understand that predators create fake profiles to deceive their victims into thinking they are harmless, like-aged peers. If someone they don’t personally know in real life ever asks to meet them in person, encourage them to tell you immediately. Remind them that they’ll never be in trouble for coming to you about this!

3. Who do you allow to follow you on social media? 

This simple question can open the door for conversations regarding social media privacy and practicing good habits when it comes to accepting friend requests. Show your child the difference between having a public and private account. When an account is public, anyone has access to their information—their social posts, images, videos and more. By making the account private, this limits the opportunity for predators to stalk social media pages and accounts. In addition, urge them to only accept friend requests from people they personally know in real life. This will also limit a predator’s ability to gather information about your child.

4. Has anyone ever asked you for nude images or videos? 

Predators are known for pushing physical and sexual boundaries. One common tactic is to ask their victims for inappropriate images and videos after gaining their trust. It usually starts small and then can be used to blackmail them into going further than they ever realized. They may even start with something seemingly innocent, such as asking for a picture of the child’s foot. If someone approaches your child with this type of request, block and report them to the National Center for Missing and & Exploited Children.  Encourage your child to screenshot the messages to be reported, and again, remind them that it is safe to come to you with this information!

5. Have you ever been made to feel uncomfortable by someone online?  

This simple yet important question may lead to more intentional conversations about internet safety and child exploitation. If your child has ever been made uncomfortable by someone online, help them understand that they shouldn’t be embarrassed by their feelings and that they did the right thing by telling someone about this specific encounter. Next, this scenario can be used as a learning moment to guide them to make good decisions online.

With over 500,000 predators active online every day, we need to help our children understand the dangers that exist behind the screen. The first step in doing so is by having open and honest conversations with them. Normalize the conversation and keep it going. This isn’t a “one and done” activity. Please don’t assume that your child could never be a victim of online “grooming” because it happens more often than you think – 80% of child sex crimes start on social media.

Be intentional. Ask your children—both young and old—about their online habits. Help them to establish good boundaries and behaviors so that they do not find themselves in a dangerous situation, or with such regret and shame that they succumb to other harms later. It’s time to turn these childhood safety statistics back around and reclaim our children’s happy futures.

Elizabeth Fisher Good is the founder and CEO of The Foundation United, a catalytic platform to end sexual exploitation and trafficking through systemic change. Fisher Good is a passionate pioneer and inspirational thought leader with a desire to expose the root issue behind sex trafficking — childhood sexual abuse. Her book “Groomed” (HarperCollins, 2020) recounts her own story of loss, abuse, and triumph. Statistics and resources quoted above can be accessed at