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See The Signs

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This article is really aimed at parents. It may rub some the wrong way, but you know you want the best for your kids, and that takes honesty.

If your kids have internet access, they’re in danger.

If that sounds like hyperbole… If you think your kids are too smart for that… If you think your Christian teen is stronger than that… I’m afraid I have some bad news.

Traffickers and predators are online and they specialize in finding the heart need, lack, and hurt in kids… kids like yours and mine. While we as parents walk the fine line between being our child’s friend and being their parent, it’s so easy to lose our position of trust.  Kids often wind up filling that position with their own peers who have no more wisdom or life experience than they have themselves. We can see from recent headlines, the results can be deadly.

Predators know this tendency of our kids and exploit it.  The danger is greater than it’s ever been because the predators are right in your child’s own bedroom, on their computer, on their phone. The solution will require conversations with our kids that are uncomfortable, but it’s time to “See The Signs” and talk about hard things.

Signs of kids being trafficked

If you follow New Hope, you know the alarming statistics of kids being trafficked all across the US, in your state and most likely, your town.  With diligent eyes and a willingness to step in, we can help these kids return to freedom.  Here are some things to watch for.

We hear the questions of kids who are trafficked, “why didn’t my parents come to save me,” “why didn’t the police help me,” “why didn’t the counselor believe me?”

  • Has the youth disconnected from family, old friends, community organizations, or houses of worship?
  • Has a child stopped attending school?
  • Has the person had a sudden or dramatic change in behavior?
  • Is a juvenile engaged in commercial sex acts?
  • Does the person appear disoriented, does their story change, do they not know the name of the town they are in?
  • Does the child have injuries that appear to have been caused by restraint, confinement, torture or abuse?
  • Does the child have bruises in various stages of healing?
  • Is the child unusually fearful, anxious, submissive, depressed or nervous / paranoid?
  • Does the child show signs of having been denied food, water, sleep, or medical care?
  • Is the child often in the company of someone to whom he or she defers, someone who seems to be in control, an adult that isn’t the parent?
  • Does the child appear to be coached on what to say or not allowed to speak for themselves?
  • Is the child apprehensive toward law enforcement?
  • Is a juvenile in a highly mobile location such as an RV, camper or motel with large numbers of adults coming and going?
  • Is a juvenile in a position that they would not reasonably be, such as visiting many trucks at a truck stop?
  • Is the child living in unsuitable conditions?
  • Does the child lack personal possessions and appear not to have a stable living situation?


Doesn’t sound anything like your kid? That’s good.  But, even kids living at home can be trafficked, maybe right up the street from you. Does this list describe a kid at your child’s school, one in their youth group, or one you see in your neighborhood?

Signs of kids being groomed

It’s disturbing to hear the story of a girl “dating” a guy many years older, and the parents don’t see the danger.

Traffickers and predators may abduct kids, but much more often, they lure them. There are often unique luring scenarios, but one of the most common is a technique called “grooming” in which a person several years older than your child gradually builds a romantic interest.

  • Is your child in a relationship with a person several years older than them?
  • Has your relationship / trust with your child seemed to change dramatically since they started dating this person?
  • Is your child being asked to leave the geographic area of their friends, family, and support systems?
  • Is your child being approached by strangers online, do they have adults in their friend circle online, are they using online services designed for anonymity?
  • Is your child being “courted” by “businesses” online who aren’t requesting to work through their parents?

If you ask your child, I bet this list is getting closer to home. If it doesn’t describe your child, it probably describes one you know personally.

Let’s start with boy friends and girl friends who are several years older. This technique of grooming is common for predators, even people your child and you may trust.  It’s very common online, where your child may feel special in a way that they don’t in person.  “A person who’s older, interested in me?  There must be something special about me, just like they tell me.”  A predator learns how to undermine a child’s trust in parents and friends.  They’re looking for someone they can control, and they know how to make it work. 

The danger is too great to make assumptions as parents. We must warn our sons and daughters BEFORE this person arrives because it becomes VERY hard to intervene afterward. This is probably THE most common “lure” or “grooming” situation we hear about and it happens to good kids from good homes and good churches.

The next item will likely raise a huge outcry from kids themselves. If they’re conversing online with people they’ve only met online, the chances are quite high that they’ll eventually be conversing with a predator. Adults pretend to be kids online to win your child’s trust, to lure them into sending pictures, and ultimately into an “in person” meeting. This is a common tactic of pedophiles. Your child needs to know adults do this before they ever log on the first time by themselves!

Lastly, legitimate businesses don’t approach teens online with offers of high paying jobs with luxury conditions, travel, parties and etc, and never ask to talk with their parents. Predators do that.

Predators prey on the desires and feelings they know are common to kids. We must teach them the skills of critical thinking before they are ever approached the first time. “Why are they looking for teens instead of adults?” “If the job pays well, is fun, is exciting, etc, why do they have to look for people online, wouldn’t applicants be lining up?” “If they don’t have anything to hide, why wouldn’t they ask to speak with your parent?”

Signs of kids in danger

Did you know that many of the ills presented to your child online have almost exactly the same prevalence among kids in the church as among unchurched kids? If we’re going to succeed in protecting our children, we have to be willing to embrace that truth and talk to them.

Some really great kids still fall victim to porn. Their question for us is, “why didn’t you ask me what was wrong?”

  • Is your child using software to avoid parental supervision?
  • Does your child spend significant unmonitored time online?
  • Is your child suddenly withdrawing from family, friends and activities they once enjoyed?
  • Is your child beginning to show signs of constant stress such as mood changes, acting out, isolation, secrecy?

Your kids are almost certainly more technologically advanced than you, and new technology arrives every day. It requires our diligent effort to stay on top of it. We recommend that standards, expectations, and safety measures be instituted when your child FIRST begins to use technology. It’s much easier then and establishes the “norm” in your home.  Knowing that safety measures online are even important for adults may make the lack of privacy for your kids a bit easier to swallow.

Many kids are utilizing software that you may have never heard of, some of it designed specifically to prevent you from knowing about their actions online. Your kids may truly believe these are legit and may want to use them because their friends do.  Again, it’s a good opportunity to teach your children to be critical consumers. “What types of texts and pictures would a person send that they would want to be deleted automatically?” “Who might want to exploit a service that allows users to be totally anonymous?” “ Who might want to exploit a service that allows them to find children who are geographically close to them at that very moment?”

Here’s a list of some of the software that features these types of attributes. You may find one your child uses already, and a year from now, a whole new list will be out there.

  • Whisper – Allows anonymous posting of secrets with strangers who are geographically close to you. Posts can then reveal things that cause loss of anonymity to a person in a position to reach you.
    YikYak – Allows totally anonymous communication with users within a 1-5 mile radius without any accounts or profiles. This app can turn your child’s school or community into a virtual chat room where mean comments, untruths, maliciousness and character assassination are shared instantly with 500 people in a close geographic area.
    Kik (Similar apps: Viber, Whatsapp, Textnow) – Alternative texting service allows texts / images to be sent without being logged in the phone history and thus with the wireless carrier. Though one attractive feature may be the use of WiFi for texting, many cellular carriers provide a similar software that can still be monitored by parents
    SnapChat (Similar apps: Poke, Wire, Wickr) – Allows sharing of pictures and videos that are automatically deleted after a specified time. It’s popular for sexting.
    ChatRoulette and Omegle – Allow video chatting with strangers. See above for the dangers of chatting with strangers, but kids may feel false security because they believe they are seeing the individual they are chatting. It has been shown that these images can be faked, so an adult can pretend to be a teen and lure kids into sending inappropriate images or meeting in person.
    Tinder (Similar apps: Down, Skout, Pure, and Blendr) – Users post images and browse images of other users. If they like an image, they can “flag” that user and if the other user flags them as well, it allows them to contact each other. See above for the obvious dangers.
    Poof – Allows users to select and hide specific apps so they won’t show on your smart phone screen. It’s obviously only useful to hide software you wouldn’t want a parent or spouse to find.

This list is in no way exhaustive and is very likely to contain software that is already popular with your child or their friends. Again, be critical in thinking. “WHY this particular feature?” “Who would benefit from a feature like this?” “If you were a person trying to harm another, could you exploit this feature?”

Although we all want to show our kids trust, to believe that your child’s privacy should not be invaded is to assume that they are wise, mature, informed and critical thinkers. Sadly, it’s simply not true and we must understand that it is our duty to protect.  In reality, our very best, brightest, and most Christ-centered kids are falling prey to traps online, especially that of porn. Let me repeat that, our BEST, our BRIGHTEST, our most sanctified CHRIST FOLLOWERS are falling into this addiction. And don’t think it’s a “boys only” issue; it’s extremely common among girls as well. If they’re spending significant time online, they’re being exposed.

Many people take a very cavalier stance toward porn believing that it isn’t addictive, maybe even that it is healthy. They believe that concern about porn is simply religious prudishness. Better read up, concerned parent. Numerous studies have shown its addictive nature, and it’s associated with depression, aggressiveness, and a host of other issues and societal ills.

We’ve seen Christian kids who became angry and disillusioned with parents during this difficult struggle, not because the parent invaded their privacy, but because they DIDN’T! They counted on their parents to help them through a severe difficulty and their parents were absent. We must find the approach, take the tough steps, ask our children if they’re struggling. That support may be just the thing to open up a future of being able to come to you when times are tough.

These lists don’t contain all of the information that can be found. You can find many resources online just by searching a term like “keep kids safe online.” Be vigilant, it may make all the difference. As our most precious gift from God, we know our kids are worth it.

New HopeSee The Signs

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