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Predator online: Has my child been manipulated?

It is a horrible situation for a parent to discover that his child was attacked by an online predator, that he was manipulated and that he was taken advantage of. Most predators do everything they can to avoid being discovered, and they do so for quite a long time.

It is therefore a challenge in itself to discover that your child might be involved in such a relationship. We met Jarmila Tomkova, a child psychologist, to talk about the first signs, what is happening in the child's mind, and what we can do to prevent predation and help children in such situations.

Does my child have very specific signs?

The onset of abnormal behaviour on the part of the child is among the first signs that he or she may be dealing with a predator. “For example, when he receives an SMS and does not open it right away, or when he turns the phone around to hide the screen. Or even more subtle clues, such as using one’s phone more often at night, using it only in the absence of adults and other strange behaviors,” Jarmila explains.

“The signs may be visible on the outside, but some children only feel them inside. One of the first signs, both visible and invisible, that the child is being manipulated is his hesitation in talking about it. The toxicity of the malicious relationship gave him the impression that he had done something wrong, hence his refusal to share his inner world. He often feels anxious after talking to the predator, which may be visible to parents,” explains Jarmila. “The child can begin to be distant, to step back from society, to increase the number of conflicts. However, none of these elements alone means that the child is being manipulated. ”

Of course, none of these elements alone means that a child is in contact with a predator, but these are signs that prompt you, as a parent, to notice your child more, to talk to him or her and to be more present.

Among the most explicit signs are gifts. “If a child receives a gift, whether it is a physical object or online, like lives or points in a game, it is a wake-up call that should never be overlooked. Jarmila explains, "There's also the case of a child who goes to meet someone and doesn't tell his parents. This should be a clear indicator that something is wrong. ”

What to do?

Use similar stories, educational videos (like this episode of our Hey Pug series), your own experience. “If a parent suspects that his or her child is in contact with a predator, it is very important not to give the child the impression that he or she is being questioned. Watching a video on the subject together is a good idea. In this way, the child and the parent feel more familiar and can talk about it, rather than the parent questions the child. ”

The next step to understanding what happens is to share an experience. “Don’t be afraid to invent a story, for example, that the child of an acquaintance has been involved in a similar case. This does not make the child feel lonely in his or her difficulties,” Jarmila explains. Even if it turns out that your child is not a victim of predation, it is good to let them know that these things can happen to everyone and that there is no shame in that. It will always be an excellent learning opportunity, because even if it does not happen to them now, it could happen in the future and it will be better guided on how to approach the situation. If this is the case, it will at least be what needs to be done, and this may allow the child to speak to his or her parent. This will create an environment without judgment, and if the child has difficulties, he or she may wish to continue the conversation. This makes it much easier for him to open up on this subject.

Do not ask the child directly

Instead, ask him if he knows anyone who might face such a problem. It may be a friend or someone at school. “This moves from video to a hypothetical story, to the child’s environment. Talking about your own experience of being deceived by someone can help the child feel safer and open up to you,” says Jarmila. "Can the child really be expected to open?" Even if, at this stage, the child does not want to speak, it is very easy to see him in his body language. ”

What if the child does not open to us?

Some personality types tend to cling to their own life experience and not share too much, especially when it is a subject as sensitive as sexual assault and manipulation. There's a lot of stigma around this topic, and even more so for a child, a lot of shame. “As responsible parents and adults, we have a responsibility to protect our children. If necessary, I think we can push the child a little bit, ask him to look at his phone, see who he is texting to, what he is watching on social media,” says Jarmila, explaining that the protection and safety of the child must be the parents’ primary concern. Always give him a reason why you suggest this, so that he knows you're not punishing him.

“If the child does not want to talk to his or her parents about it, it is good to encourage him or her to talk to someone else about it. Find a trustworthy adult and talk to him. It is not necessary for it to be a parent. It's important to stay calm as a parent and not put too much pressure on the child. “Sometimes it is good to make the child understand that he does not need to tell us right away. Instead, set a specific moment in the near future to discuss, or tell him to talk to another adult. Let him know that you are there for him, that you care about his well-being, and that you want the best for him. Let him know that many people are abused, that it is not uncommon for us to trust people and abuse them. ”

Prevention begins in kindergarten. Restricting technology is not a solution.

Is it possible to prevent predation?

Even if it is not possible to prevent this from happening to children, we can take certain measures to ensure that our children are equipped to the best of such exposures. Jarmila explains that it is important to educate children from nursery school about technology and its risks.

She sent us this list of things we can do to equip our children as well as possible:

  • Tell your children about what's going on online and offline. Don't limit the conversation to what's going on in school.

  • Parents should be the forerunners in the family. They determine the subjects that the family talks about and those that are taboo.

  • Instair confidence from an early age. Make sure the child understands that he or she can turn to you for anything.

  • Talk about past failures. Life is made up and down, and it is good to show our children that we make mistakes as well as they do.

  • Set limits. For example, limit the time spent on social media or the people they can be friends with on Facebook. And be clear and transparent about why you do.

  • Use parental control and explain security in a transparent way. Don't just give them a phone with security settings already in place. Show them what parental control does, draw the conclusions together, and make sure they understand why this control is important.

  • Educate and educate your child. Create an account on TikTok and understand the platforms. This will give you a great advantage afterwards, when you have to deal with a problem.

  • Do things together. Play online games, stream together. 


Once the manipulation has begun, the first step of the predator is to build trust and convince the child that he or she likes him or her and that it is important to him or her. “It is essential that the child understands where the boundaries of a friendly conversation lie. It is not right that a friend should want to keep his discussions secret. It is not normal for them to want to see the child from the back or see his neck. These are all signs that the child must be wary of when he or she is talking to someone online,” Jarmila explains when asked how the child can understand whom he or she is talking to.

When the child has suspicions, he or she must start making screenshots, even if he or she is not ready to talk to an adult. "As soon as something becomes suspicious, take a screenshot. This is not unusual for a child and it is a great way to gather evidence. ”

"Never do anything you wouldn't want your friends and relatives to know, and never do anything that makes you uncomfortable. These are healthy limits that apply both online and offline,” Jarmila explains.

Mom, Dad... I think I made a mistake

It is very important to make your child understand that he or she has done nothing wrong. “Make sure your child knows that everyone is making mistakes and that it wasn’t his or her fault. Everyone can be manipulated, especially by a professional. That's what predators are. When the child comes to us and tells us what is happening, many parents have the instinct to take off his smartphone. It would be a mistake to do so. The child is the victim and must not be punished. Instead, offer your help, look for a professional, and continue to educate them and educate you about the dangers and risks of the digital world,” says Jarmila.

The child must have the impression that talking to his or her parents is a happy outcome. Acceptance and love are essential to ensure that the child is heard and understood. After all, it is up to us to create paths for our children, so that they can explore them safely in their digital discovery journey.


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