The headline in my local paper proclaimed that a 35 year-old man was arrested for meeting a local 12 year-old at the movie theater with the intent of having sex with her. The man and the tween had met, talked and planned the meeting online. After the girl's mother found messages from the accused on her daughter's Facebook account, her cell phone and by Skype, the police stepped in and the man is now charged with indecent solicitation of a minor and traveling to meet a minor for a sexual encounter.
That's when I understood that it really can happen anywhere. And by "it," I mean tweens meeting sexual predators online who intend to groom and abuse these tweens.
It surprised me that this girl, a member of my community, is not that much older than my daughter. I was also surprised that not only know of the location, but I've been there several times. In those trips to the movie theater, it never once occurred to me that it could also be the site of criminal sexual encounter.
Although I certainly don't want to become complacent and "used" to reading such information, the headline shouldn't have caught me off guard. Tween Us has a safety section. Kim Estes, a child safety expert, has graciously guest posted on a variety of safety topics, including why tweens are at risk to become victims of crime. I've advised that parents closely monitor their children's online activity. In addition, I've clearly stated my belief that people should Facebook and Instagram's rules that a user be 13 years old to have an account. So why did my breath catch when reading the news headline about the alleged offense? The light bulb came on.
I had been in denial of the fact that criminal sexual abuse of minors by strangers they've online really can and does happen anywhere, including my back yard.
I just presumed it wouldn't be my child who would engage in such online activity, who would become a victim. Or at a minimum that it wouldn't happen quite so young. I was wrong. It's a mistake I don't plan to make again. Because online predators are out there, waiting to take advantage of our tweens. Our 12 year -olds.
I cannot keep my tween completely safe, I know but I can say "no" to online accounts and smartphones with full internet access for now and when she is old enough to have them, I'll be checking them.
I debated whether to write about this here, on a happy Valentine's Week. It's a serious, disturbing topic, and I understand that not many people want to read about it. I'd far prefer to bury my head in the sand, too. But I am sick at the thought of what may have happened if the mother of that 12 year-old hadn't checked her daughter's accounts. What if she had buried her head in the sand?
I know no one "likes" posts like this, but if you think it is important to keep our kids safe, please consider clicking the "like" button at the top of this post or liking Tween Us on Facebook.
You may also be interested in: Safety rules of behavior for parents of tweens
And to lighten the mood a bit (because I'm not a total Debbie Downer), check out: Amy Poehler gives awesome advice on how to avoid negativity
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