April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and the national theme this year is “We Can Build Safe Online Spaces.” With the pandemic forcing so much of our lives onto online spaces, digital safety is more important than ever. As a parent/guardian, try having ongoing conversations with your child or teen about what they’re doing online — what videos they’re watching, games they’re playing, sites they’re exploring, and who they’re talking with online. Share your expectations with them in regards to their online safety, such as not sharing passwords, not sharing personal information or meeting in-person with those they meet online, and not visiting websites meant for adults.
Help your child or teen identify the signs that someone may be grooming them online, such as asking to keep their relationship a secret, saying sexual comments, asking if they’ve ever been kissed, sending links to sexual content, asking to connect only on certain apps, asking if their parents are around, only wanting to chat at night or with their door shut, trying to get them to do something they don’t want to do, wanting to see more photos of them, or sending them online gifts.
Encourage them to come to you with any concerns about things they saw online or in a text. Kids are often afraid that their parents/guardians will be mad or disappointed in them about something that happened online so reassure your child that they won’t get in trouble and that you are proud of them for talking to you about it. Ask if they know how to report inappropriate content and block people that are making them uncomfortable. It’s important that our children know that we are here to help them stay safe online.
It can be overwhelming to try to understand all the apps, social media sites, and games your child may be using and the privacy settings and parental controls. For assistance, we recommend the Parents Need to Know section of commonsensemedia.org. Has your teen started dating? Talk to them about their rights to have their digital boundaries respected by their partner. Learn more at loveisrespect.org/resources/digital-boundaries. Are you an educator? Check out netsmartz.org for tip sheets and classroom activities and commonsensemedia.org for digital safety lesson plans.
If you or your child is experiencing digital abuse, exploitation, or harassment, you are not alone. Hope House has a 24-hour, confidential helpline you can call at 1–800–584–6790. Stay connected with what Hope House is doing this month to raise awareness on Facebook and Instagram: @hopehousescw.
-Sarah Campbell, Hope House Youth Advocate/Educator, and Jess Kaehny, Hope House Community Education Program Manager