CALL 713.222.TIPS (8477)

Don’t be a Noob – Talk to Boys About Online Safety

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and it’s an important time to talk about the online exploitation of children. Today, children are spending more time on the internet. During the COVID-19 pandemic there has been a dramatic increase in reports of online exploitation. In the year 2020 alone, reports of online enticement to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) to the CyberTipline grew by 97.5% compared to 2019. Online video games have been very popular for years and are especially popular now. Because of social distancing precautions, more and more children (especially boys) are playing online video games for entertainment and as a way to socialize with friends.

. Online sexual exploitation using gaming platforms is often not at the top of their list of concerns. If you’re a “noob” or someone new to online gaming, it is important to know that these video games are not like what you might have played as a young person- they have become more than just games, but also a tool to connect with friends and meet new people. Using built-in chat features on consoles like Xbox and PlayStation, young children can connect through the game itself and on sites Several games feature “lobbies” for players to converse before beginning game play. In this context, it is common to develop relationships with strangers.

The anonymity of online interfaces of these gaming platforms increases the risk of sexual exploitation, and boys are particularly vulnerable. According to Pew Research Center, players of online video games are disproportionately boys, with 97% of teen males playing video games on some device. Though most people who play online games have positive experiences, as with any platform that allows communication with others, there is the possibility for online sexual exploitation. For example, competitive team-centric shootout style games with a shared objective to achieve victory are particularly popular right now. Perpetrators target and groom children by building camaraderie as a teammate to learn personal details in a way that is unique to gaming platforms, and then use this information and trust to sexually exploit the child. With boys spending so much time online and the potential for unmonitored interactions, we need to talk about it.

Start the conversation and do some research. Talking about online sexual exploitation can be hard, so NCMEC developed resources to help! NCMEC offers a variety of tools to help jumpstart talking to your children about online safety and signs of potential online exploitation. Parental involvement is critical when it comes to helping children game more safely. Take an active interest in the games that your child plays and wants to buy; that means talking to them about it and doing a little research on the game’s rating, game-play style, content and age-appropriateness.

Teach online safety skills. Into the Cloud, NCMEC’s animated online safety adventure series, presents important safety information in an age-appropriate and entertaining manner for children 10 and younger. To start a dialogue with your child, each episode has a corresponding You can find more resources to teach children of all ages online safety skills by visiting www.missingkids.org/netsmartz.

Report. If you suspect sexual exploitation of a child, even if you’re not sure, report it to the CyberTipline.  NCMEC’s  CyberTipline® is a centralized reporting system for online exploitation of children. NCMEC staff review each tip and then make the report available to the appropriate law enforcement agency for possible investigation.

To make a CyberTipline Report, visit report.cybertip.org.

Posted by Mitchell Kuhlman, National Center for Missing & Exploited Children on 29 Apr 2021