Kids can easily encounter predators online; and predators know the places kids hang out online and how to develop online relationships with them.

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When you see your child texting or chatting online, you may assume they are communicating with friends and family. But that may not always be the case. If you think your child is safe from online stranger solicitation, you are wrong. The odds that your child or teen has encountered a solicitation from a stranger online are high, and there is also a chance that those messages were inappropriate or lewd.

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Make sure your kid has positive connections outside the family and people to talk to -- and get support from -- during these years when they sometimes push you away. We can start with safeguards such as avoiding apps that make contact with strangers easy such as Kik and Tinderkeeping s private, and setting limits on where and when your teen can use a device as in, not alone in their room at night.

Also, predators will sometimes do research and get information from social media profiles to establish trust, so it may seem like they know you, but they don't. Ask your teen : What if you don't know this person, but they're super nice and show caring at a time when you really need it?

The dangers of text chat with strangers

Takeaways : We send kids confusing messages about talking and meeting online: We share personal information on the internet all the time and use dating apps, sites, and chat rooms to eventually meet strangers. It's just not worth it. Ask your teen : What should you do if someone you don't know contacts you online? I learned about "stranger danger" when I was little, and I know this isn't safe. But for many parents, it's the scariest thing about our kids' digital lives. No way!

Strangers and predators online

While it's fairly rare for predators to solicit contact offline, it does happen, so it's important to be aware of your kid's connections and activities. Takeaways : Sometimes, the most important and trustworthy defense is our instinct, so if something doesn't feel right, trust yourself, even if that means ending online contact with someone you like. Whether its unwanted sexual solicitationa predator trying to make offline contact, or other inappropriate advances, it's important to make sure our kids know what to do if they ever encounter someone with bad intentions.

Follow-up : What if they say they already have an embarrassing picture, and if you don't send more, they'll share that one with everyone? Have a good night!

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Feel free to run through this script verbatim or riff -- whatever works for you! This is also a good reason for teens to think about their digital footprints and the pieces of themselves they share online.

The dos and don’ts of chatting with strangers online

They could be totally different in person. If I really need someone to talk to, I need to find someone I can truly trust, even if it's a friend of the family or a teacher. You can also frame it as something like a driving test: To use social media, they need to be able to operate it safely. If they continued, I'd block them and report their user information and wouldn't respond anymore. Ask your teen : When is it time to ask me or another adult for help? Anyone asking for pictures especially posed or sexy ones is a huge red flag, and it's best to go offline to avoid the pressure so you can stop and think.

Share the person's name, phoneor whatever other information I have with someone else. Asking for pictures? Asking personal questions? Once someone has my phonethey can call me anytime, anywhere, and it's also easier to get more info about me, so no way.

Instead, we need to arm them with information. And creepy people aren't always total strangers; sometimes your kid knows them, but then things get weird -- or scary.

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Takeaways : It's hard and great for your kid to practice setting boundaries. Teens who share sexy pictures or lots of personal information online are more at risk to be approached by online predators. After I'm offline, then I can take a minute to figure out what made me the Were they too familiar, acting like we're best friends? Follow-up : But what if they seem harmless and nice? What should you do then? Make sure other friends know where you are and who you're meeting. Ask your teen : What if you feel like you've gotten to know someone really well online and they ask to meet in real life?

How dangerous could that be? To get the ball rolling, find five or 10 minutes when your kid is receptive in other words, don't interrupt their favorite show and demand to talkand tell them you want to teach them skills that are similar to being able to change a tire: They can get you out of a sticky situation. As parents we know this takes a lot of repetition, usually until our kids roll their eyes and say, "I KNOW!

I can shut it down gently by saying something like, "Hey, I don't want to chat online, but I'll see you at school. People -- especially girls and women -- get hurt, and I'd rather play it safe and just hang out with people I know face-to-face. Talking internet a stranger online might feel good at first but then just cause more problems in the end. Though it could be totally safe, encouraging too much online contact without knowing who's really on the other end can lead to a lot of talking personal stranger and false intimacy, which can make a teen let down their guard.

Follow-up : What if your friends think it's funny to chat with them just as a prank?

How to talk to my child about online grooming

Also, tweens and teens who are in emotional distress are especially vulnerable because they crave positive attention and connection, so if you notice your kid withdrawing, being secretive, and hiding online interactions, it's time to ask some questions. Ask your teen : What if the person really does know you, but you aren't really interested in being in contact online? Even if they had a picture I didn't mean for them to have, if I sent another one, the demands would never stop.

Even though it might be tempting to talk to someone who's separate from my problems, it's not a good idea to open up to someone who might not have my best interests at heart. Takeaways : Tweens and teens are at a sensitive age when they want to be more independent from their parents but also crave positive attention. Do not contact me again. This combination can make them more vulnerable. It's easy to find out things about people online and seem to know them, so that's no reason to chat.

Either way, this is someone I don't know, so I don't have to worry about being polite. If you shut it down early, they're likely to give up.

Why it’s (mostly) ok for kids to talk to strangers online

If they keep going, I can block them and now it's confirmed that they're really a creeper. I mean, they don't know where you live, right? Anything you share with them keeps the conversation going; it doesn't help end it. Ultimately, we need to help them find the right words to say or type in certain situations and recognize when they need to get help.

Meet during the day in a public place and bring a friend. Takeaways : Online predators will often feel out a situation before asking for more information. I don't think I'd ever feel safe doing this. One chance for embarrassment is better than sending more pictures. Adults do this all the time with dating apps, so it sort of feels the same, but I know there are creepy people out there, and I don't want to get myself into a situation where I'm suddenly in danger.

Ask your teen : But what if this person really seems to know you or one of your friends? That would only make the problem worse.

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Make sure to acknowledge that they might already have many of these skills, so this could be a chance to show them off. Follow up : It's not safe to meet someone you don't know. Ask your teen : What if the person knows you and you are interested -- but then it doesn't feel right?

I can ask the person for his full name and then check with the friend to see if it's legit. Since we don't know anything about them, it's safest not to share anything, even as a joke. Some creepers ask for pictures and personal information right away, and others can seem nice at first. If they were persistent, I'd type, "I don't want to talk to you. If they continue, I can just stop responding.

My child has been talking to strangers online – what now?

When anyone starts asking for pictures or personal information, it's a red flag, and I would always say no. I know I haven't shared anything too embarrassing, so that kind of threat wouldn't work.

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It's better to block than to be nice and better to be safe than to be sweet. Or what if they seem to know things about you? I can tell them that it seems safe and funny when we're all together, but this person might try again when one of us is alone. Here are some ideas for how to talk to kids about this tricky subject. It could also be that your teen is intrigued by the sudden attention. Sometimes they'll say they already have something embarrassing to blackmail someone into sending pictures sometimes called "sextortion"but sending more never stops the harassment; it only increases it.

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Follow-up : What if they just want one picture, your Snapchat handle, or your phone so you can text each other? If they keep trying, I can just stop responding, and if they won't stop, I can block them. We might not want to think about our kids dealing with creepy people online.

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I know how to block and report someone if I need to, but if someone won't stop bothering me or if I feel scared, I'll ask for help. Getting to know someone online is different from meeting up with that person in real life, alone. We're not always going to be with our kids, and -- as painful as it sometimes is -- we can't control everything. And though it may seem like harmless fun in the moment, there's a real person behind that other screen whose intentions aren't good, so that's not a person you want to tease or make angry.

And while it's nice to be polite if someone knows you in real life, you don't have to be nice if they aren't respecting your limits.

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If I say yes once, it just opens the door to asking for more pics and more info. The safest approach is, if I don't know someone in real life, I don't talk to them online.

I never thought my child would meet a stranger online, until she asked me if it would be okay

But the most powerful tool is becoming a guiding voice in our kids' he. Takeaways : Since teens often make contact online before they do in real life, there could really be a safe friend of a friend on the other end of the keyboard. But if you were going to do thatwhat do you think are the safest ways?

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