There are different types of sextortion campaigns — from bot-run email blasts to exes seeking revenge and online predators searching for nudes (and possibly more). With teens and young people often being the victims, it’s important for parents to know how to prevent sextortion from happening.
The good news? It’s fairly easy. You just need common sense and to go through our checklist.
What Parents Can Do
Dr. Pamela B. Rutledge, Director of the Media Psychology Research Center, tells Parentology how important it is for parents to empower their children to ask for help when they need it. She says it’s good to remind them that asking for help doesn’t mean they did something wrong.
“Help your kids to be sensitive to messages or requests that don’t seem right so they can block the sender or report it to you or another adult,” she says. This includes if the relationship is with a school friend who is now asking for explicit content. “Help kids see that anything shared is vulnerable and that sharing that puts them personally at risk is not a very good form of friendship, even if ‘everyone else does it.’”
To keep you, your child, and your family’s information safe in the future, Rutledge suggests the following tips:
- Do not post or share any information or images that you do not want to be public. If your social media accounts are open to everyone, a predator may be able to figure out a lot of information about you.
- Change your passwords regularly and update your permissions.
- Know that people can pretend to be anyone online. Remind kids that videos and photos are not proof that a person is who they claim to be. There are many examples of fraud cases perpetrated with made-up profiles and stolen photos.
- Be suspicious if you meet someone in one place and they ask you to connect with them on a different platform.
- Remember that any content you create online — whether it is a text message, photo, or video — can be made public. (This includes platforms like Snapchat where the content allegedly vanishes forever; it doesn’t.) Once you send something, you don’t have any control over where it goes next. It becomes permanent and searchable.
- Anyone who is victimized online should tell someone. For parents, this means creating a safe space where your tween or teen can talk to you without being punished or shamed further.
- Be very cautious of the institutions and sites that ask you to share private information.
- Do not send private information when you are on a public WI-FI network.
- It is always a good idea to check the preferences on your devices and apps to see which apps have “permission” to access your camera, microphone, and other features such as location. Make sure you understand all the permissions you have granted and turn off any that aren’t essential to your normal routine and work.
Communication between you and your child, as well as being aware of what they’re doing online and with their digital devices, is key. As Diana Graber, author of Raising Humans in a Digital World and the founder of Cyber Civics/Cyberwise, tells Parentology, “I believe education is the number one thing that can keep a child safe online.”
How to Prevent Sextortion — Sources
Justin Patchin, Professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center
Dr. Pamela B. Rutledge, Director Media Psychology Research Center