The suspicious vans of the internet

exit_internet_safetyGUEST POST

For decades, kids and young people have been warned about grown-ups lurking in suspicious vans. Unfortunately, the sketchy grown-ups have parked their virtual vans online too. Sexual misconduct or mishandling can take many forms on the internet. Unwanted sexual messages and comments and showing or asking for sexual pictures are some common examples of it.

The media loves to emphasize the negative aspects of mobile apps and the internet: “Do you know how much time your child spends online?”, “Save your kid from the dangers of the internet”, and so on.

For kids, being online is a normal part of everyday life: They keep up with social networks and consider it a fun way of spending time. Their phones are packed with apps for sharing pictures, chatting and building online persona.

The combination of people with bad intentions and kids spending time online drive parents to search for solutions. Should parents deny their children the access to internet? Or perhaps force their kids to reveal their browsing history?

No. The real problem is those grown-ups and other youth who circulate unwanted sexual material. The young person receiving it is never to blame, and that cannot be emphasized enough.

In case of sexual abuse

Young people are interested in sex and sexuality. Curiosity is a part of sexual development, and children may search for sexual material themselves. Even if that’s the case, anyone facing sexual abuse is not to blame. The responsibility always lies on the person that exposes other people to sexually explicit, unwanted material.

If your child faces sexual abuse on the internet, in the best case scenario he or she tells you about it. It’s important to stay supportive. You should always thank the child for confiding in you and emphasize that he or she hasn’t done anything wrong.

Here are my tips for protecting your child:

  • Show real interest in what your kid does online.
  • Talk openly about the phenomenon of abusive behaviour. Don’t blame or bemoan.
  • Explore the phenomenon together at a general level and analyze the features of online sexual exploitation.
  • Encourage your child to tell you if they encounter something suspicious or unpleasant online.
  • Remember that your child has a right to privacy.

If your child has been harassed or abused, you are naturally overwhelmed with worry. In that case stay focused and try to think what is the best way to ensure your child’s safety. Going through your his or her private messages or forbidding the use of social media isn’t the way to go. Open and honest discussion takes you much further.

After all, even though your parents warned you about the creeps in their vans you were allowed to walk down the street, right?

About the author:

Ilona Mäki, Youth Exit

Ilona Mäki, Bachelor of Social Services and Sexual Counsellor, has several years of working experience in child welfare. The past four years she has worked as a project planner and counsellor at Youth Exit in Finland. Youth Exit prevents sexual exploitation and transactional sex of young people and provides support and counseling to persons from 13 to 29 years of age. Youth Exit is funded by the Finland’s Slot Machine Association and was granted with its Impressive! Award in 2013 for effective work.