How to identify a predator

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If you suspect that a predator may be targeting your child, you'll need to do some investigative work. This may involve checking in with your child more frequently, asking targeted questions, or digging into the information you can get from a parental control app.

7 Signs that a predator may be targeting your child.

When talking to your child—or monitoring their devices and online conversations—look out for these seven signs.

1. Your child is secretive about their online conversations.

Nearly all kids want (and deserve) some level of privacy—it’s an important part of growing up. But if you notice that your child is frequently ending conversations when you walk in the room, being cagey about who they’re talking to, or even lying about their online chats, it’s cause for concern.


2. Your child wants to download new messaging apps.

While predators may connect with children through public forums like gaming chat rooms and social media apps, over time, they often ask victims to use different methods of communication.

These could range from disappearing message apps like Snapchat to fake calculators that allow users to hide files and photos.

If you notice that your child is downloading—or asking to download—new messaging apps, it's worth having a conversation about why they want to use it.

3. Your child pulls away from friends and family.

Child predators may express agreement with your kids in all areas, on all topics—and pile on when your child expresses normal frustration with friends and family. Predators may also begin to tell their victims that friends and family don’t “get” them, or that others won’t understand their friendship. In doing so, the predator begins to position themselves as the only “real” source of love and understanding in your child’s life.

If you notice your child pulling away from you, other family members, or friends, it’s time to have a conversation with them about why. The answer may be as simple as changing interests, a playground argument, or feeling under the weather. But if it’s due to the influence of a potential predator, you’ll want to find out as soon as possible.

4. Your child gets unexpected gifts and presents.

If a new online acquaintance is suddenly sending your child gifts, it can be a cause for concern. These gifts may be physical (sent to your house) or digital (like v-bucks for Fortnite) in nature. They may have also instructed your child not to tell anyone about the gift.

The reason for concern is twofold: one, unexpected, generous gifts from an unknown or undisclosed party could be a sign of potential grooming. And two, it can mean that someone knows your family’s address, banking information, or contact details.

Your child may not even realize that they’ve given personal information to a predator. As predators create a sense of trust with their victim, they may ask the child personal questions. These could range from questions about their school mascot and the day's weather to requests for addresses.

Even seemingly innocent details, like whether or not your child plays soccer on the weekends, could give a predator the information they need to narrow down your child's location.

Child looking at phone under covers

5. Your child is sending or receiving inappropriate pictures.

Requests for any pictures can be concerning, but predators may request your child send them specific images. These can range from seemingly innocent snaps to sexual poses.

A predator may also send your child photos in return, either of themselves, the person they're pretending to be, or inappropriate sexual images pulled from the internet. They may also tell your child to hide these photos somewhere, such as in one of the aforementioned fake calculator apps.

6. Your child is talking about sexual topics.

In a paper from the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, researchers indicated that many predators discuss sexual topics online with victims, and that children and teens may be aware of a predator's sexual intent when meeting face-to-face.

It's important to note that this does not ever make a child responsible for a predator's actions. The adult grooming the child or teen is always the party at fault.

But if you discover that your child is involved in sexual online conversations, or your child references sexual terms or media in conversation, it’s vital that you talk to them about it. Even if they happen to be talking to another minor, your child may be exposed to content that’s not age appropriate.

7. Your child doesn’t tell you where they went or who they met.

No, your parents probably didn't know every single friend you ever met up with after school at the mall or during a Friday night football game. But your parents probably knew mo

Yes, it's entirely possible that your child (especially if they're a teen) will meet up with new friends from school that you haven't met yet.

But if your child is suddenly more secretive than usual about where they’ve been or who they’re hanging out with, it may be a sign that something is amiss.

Are these signs always a cause for concern?

One or two of these signs by themselves might not indicate a predator. It's entirely possible that your friend has an age-appropriate friend who they truly have a lot in common with.

If you tick multiple items off this list, though, it can be cause for concern.

Be sure to listen to your gut either way—it's better to end your child's slightly suspicious online friendship and find out you were wrong later than to accidentally allow grooming to continue.

When predators groom children, they may encourage their victims to keep the “friendship” secret, or work to erode the child’s trust in supportive figures. As a result, your child may be hesitant to let you know who they’re talking to, or when.

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