Parents are aware of the typical dangers that kids face online. We know about cyber bullying and have been given tools to watch over our children’s phones and devices.

But there are new hazards threatening our children and we must arm ourselves with knowledge.

Video games, when deemed appropriate and non-violent, seem like good fun for kids whose parents are okay with them. But parents have been horrified to discover popups of conversations filled with graphic language and imagery. Children are being lured by predators who pose as other kids their age, meet them online through multiplayer video games and chat apps and then interact with them.

Children are being lured by predators who pose as other kids their age, meet them online through multiplayer video games and chat apps and then interact with them.

These criminals confide in their victims with invented stories of hardships or lack of self-worth and slowly build trust. Their goal is to eventually have the child share compromising images of themselves which will then be used as blackmail unless more graphics are sent. The child is told that the predator knows their family and that the pictures will be posted everywhere if there is a lack of cooperation. There have even been threats where the child is told, "I know where you live. Here’s your address and I’m coming to kill your family if you don’t send more pics."

The New York Times (‘While They Play Online Children May Be the Prey’) describes these crimes as "sextortion" and it is growing. At video game conferences and in children’s own homes, the threat is lurking. The problem is that the games and technology have made it simpler to connect with strangers, and we have no idea who they really are. Some parents of children as young as six admitted that they had no idea that their children were even capable of chatting on their games.

The predators will send gaming currency to the child and in this way, build a connection. So many kids play games like Fortnite, it becomes a perfect avenue to send the child V-bucks. Next, the child is sent imagery that gradually becomes more graphic. They are asked to send images of themselves, which many do. This has happened on commonly played games like Playstation, Fortnite, Minecraft and Roblox. Those arrested included people from all walks of life: a police officer, teacher, minister, nurse, mechanic, dental hygienist, deliveryman and college student. Social media and video streaming platforms also snared children, some as young as 8.

What can parents do?

Being literate in your child’s online life is a must.

Parents need to know what their children are playing. They need to teach children how to recognize inappropriate messages and how to block users and shut off chat functions.

Two experts quoted in the NYT article gave the following pieces of advice:

Set rules for when and how your child can interact with others online.

It is about not spending too much time online, being sure that the content is age appropriate, and knowing that having access online is a privilege and not a right. Parents must create real standards and have access and control online in order for children to stay safe.

Spend time with your child on new games and apps

When you share time with your child and see what they see, you are going to gain their trust as well as information. You are better able to discuss with your child risks and hazards that you have found.

Talk to your child about online safety, and listen

Groomers and abusers count on children remaining silent. Give children the understanding that they may always come to you with concerns. Teach them that even online, we must treat one another with dignity and respect. Give ideas of ways a child can stay safe and out of trouble online.

Encourage your child to raise any concerns with a trusted adult

Children need to be told that they may never send compromising photos of themselves to anyone. Ever. Too many kids have ended up in horrifying situations because this first rule was never set or ignored.

Here’s a rule: If it makes you feel uncomfortable, listen to your feelings. Don’t do it.

Kids should also be taught that there are red flags showing that there is a dangerous situation ahead. Some of the red flags given are: you’re told to keep the relationship secret, you’re asked for a lot of personal information, you’re promised gifts or game currency, discussion about your appearance, or a request to meet in person.

Tell children that they should not be afraid to speak to an adult that they trust and share their concerns.

You do not have to be embarrassed or ashamed. You do have to stay safe.

Be on the lookout for warning signs of abuse

Parents should pay attention to an excessive time that kids are spending online or angry reactions when parents say "no more." Children should lookout for "voices" they don’t recognize and requests for inappropriate behavior. Anyone who says "don’t tell your parents" is danger.

Educate your child about blocking users who make them feel uncomfortable

Too many parents are not knowledgeable when it comes to their children’s technology.

Learn how to report and block users. Teach your children well. Encourage them to take advantage of these options if anyone is acting inappropriately. Do not maintain contact with anyone making you feel unsafe. If the person keeps pestering you, contact the police.

Don’t blame your child

Groomers and predators know that many children are afraid to share embarrassment with their parents. Kids are scared of getting into trouble. Reassure your child that you are not angry at them. Don’t judge your child and blow your top. Your child needs to feel safe confiding in you.

Take charge as your child’s online protector

It is up to parents to take control as a child’s guardian. You cannot buy these games and then expect a child to stay safe on his own. Just as you would never hand over the keys and say "drive," you need to be watching and guiding.

Parenting in a tech world is opening us up to new horizons, but our mission has never changed. We are here to guide, inspire, teach and lead. Raising the next generation with values and wisdom. Creating a path. We must remain informed so that we can give our children the tools to navigate and grow feeling safe and strengthened.