Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt is issuing a consumer alert and a public service announcement for parents to be watchful of their children’s online activity during quarantine or stay at home orders, as traffickers or other bad actors may use that increased online presence as a way to contact, groom, or otherwise exploit children.
“Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, children are undoubtedly online more often and potentially more susceptible to bad actors who may try to groom or exploit them,” said Attorney General Schmitt. “Although everyone is busy with work at home schedules, parents should be vigilant in watching their children’s online activity.”
During the COVID -19 pandemic and subsequent school closures and stay at home orders, kids are spending more time online. They are using technology to continue their learning, stay in touch with family, friends and social activities as well as entertainment. Parents who are busy with work and other demands may find it increasingly difficult to monitor their child’s online activity. This creates increased opportunities for traffickers and other exploiters to contact, groom and exploit kids.
Some helpful tips to watch what your children are doing online:
- Devices should be used in the shared spaces of your home, not in your child’s bedroom or behind closed doors. Establish a time at night (like 9pm) in which all devices are turned off. Setting these basic parameters limiting time and space opportunities have been shown to significantly reduce risks associated with unmonitored internet use for youth.
- Be present and involved when your child installs a new app on their device. Most apps have privacy settings that default to public. You may need to help your child set up the privacy settings with most every new app or game they use. For example, if your child’s church youth group wants to meet through Instagram, you should be involved in the set-up of that app so that the privacy settings are set correctly.
- If your kids are on your cell phone plan, you can change settings in the app store such that they cannot download apps without parental approval
If you see or suspect something suspicious, call the Missouri Attorney General’s Human Trafficking hotline at 1-844-487-0492. Additionally, visit MakeMoFree.com for more resources and information.