Remote learning, summer vacation increase kids' risk of predatory online encounter

Whether they’re preparing for summer classes or simply settling into summer vacation, chances are students across the Tampa Bay area will continue spending more time online at home as the COVID-19 pandemic wears on. Local experts say the extra screen time can put kids at a greater risk of being contacted by sex predators. 

Selah Freedom is a Sarasota-based sex trafficking-prevention organization. The nonprofit released this video in April warning about the dangers that children face every time they open their phone or tablet.

As students spend more time at home, they're also spending more time on gaming apps and social media platforms where they can connect with people, allowing exploiters and predators even more access than ever to young people. 

The nonprofit is now offering training courses for parents and kids to avoid predators online. 

“We want our young people not to be posting their full names, their addresses, personal contact information,” Selah Freedom prevention coordinator Kyra Montaque told FOX 13 News. “Never talking about where they’re at, turning off those location settings so that everyone that’s following you doesn’t know. Being very careful about posting angry or sad statuses, because those are gateways directly to our young people where someone could reach out and say, ‘Oh, I understand what you’re feeling. Let me help you.’”

Another big takeaway: teach your kids to be careful about which photos they're posting as well as privacy settings. Don't leave a door open to a predator or trafficker. 

We can arm and equip our young people with the tools that they need, that are necessary so that they are not being taken advantage of,” Montaque said. “If I am explaining to a young person how a predator operates online, their senses, their guard is going to be up if they encounter that person that they heard us talk about. They’re going to be like, ‘Oh, no this doesn’t seem like a good situation.’ They’re going to avoid those things.”

Selah Freedom’s website cites a statistic that one out of nine children are approached by a predator online. The organization is holding live training sessions June 4 and June 18.

You have to sign up in advance. 

Resources from Selah Freedom:
Something you may not realize is that your child's smart phone is set by default to allow pornography, explicit content and that even Siri can be a portal to predators and dangerous content on the web. Check out how you can set parental control on your iPhone or Android.

Photos taken and posted can also automatically contain "geotags" which can help predators track and locate your children. Click here to learn how to remove geotag settings.

Click here to view Frontier's Parental Controls Guide for a step-by-step breakdown of how to set up controls on video games, your browsers and more.