Our online lives can be exciting and a great way to connect with friends from around the world. Unfortunately, there are those who feel justified in abusing others, whether in person or online. Worst of all, there are those who will use online access to cause real harm to our children.

1) Secrecy

If your child has become extremely secretive about their online activities, taking their phone to bed with them or using a shared computer at all hours, they may be in an inappropriate relationship online, or being treated inappropriately. The grooming signs of an inappropriate relationship can include an obsessive attachment to their phones and a desire to be isolated from the household.

Unfortunately, this can also look like adolescence. Be willing to police the use of internet devices and to monitor communications. You may have to take away the phone for a time to review texts, chats, and photos that your child is receiving. If you notice anything inappropriate, contact local authorities. Cyber-stalkers who target children may just be lonely teens looking for romance, but they can also be pedophiles and traffickers. Your child simply doesn’t have the experience to understand the risk.

2) Mood Swings

A child who’s receiving abuse online, or getting inappropriate attention, will be confused. This can lead to mood swings, constant attention to their phones, or a sudden drop in electronic use.

One of the great tragedies of online communications is also a failure in real life: Standing up to a bully is hard and it takes courage to stand out from the crowd. If your child is on the receiving end of cyber-nastiness, other kids may be piling on or ignoring the situation. Both of these responses by bystanders only egg on the bully. Online bullying can have tragic consequences in the real world. Be ready to serve as an administrator for your child’s online accounts to respond to bullying behaviors.

3) Strong Device Attachment

A child who’s receiving romantic or titillating attention from an online connection will be unwilling to put down the phone. These attentions may feel romantic in a lonely, confusing world. The person connecting with your child may be encouraging isolation from family and friends and may even be trying to make a real-world appointment.

It’s entirely possible that this appointment could lead to physical danger for your child. If you choose to set up a “no phones in bed” policy and your child refuses to comply or grows very upset at this imposition, you may need to get tough and take on the role of administrator to monitor the contact your child is receiving. If your child is the target of a trafficker or a pedophile, you will need to make contact with the police. It’s also highly likely that your child will benefit from professional counseling to help them understand how to deal with their victimization.

4) Strong Device Avoidance

You may notice that your child, who had a happy online life of gaming and connecting with friends, suddenly avoids the computer or their phone. They may be the victim of cyber-bullying. They may become morose, avoid contact with friends, and isolate themselves. They may be ashamed of the treatment they’re receiving and uncertain of how to move forward.

Your role as administrator of their online accounts can serve both as shield and investigator in this case. If you find evidence of cyber-bullying, print off the information, and schedule the necessary meetings. Connect with the parents of the child who’s sending the bullying messages to make them aware. They may act; they may not. Discuss the problem with the powers that be at your child’s school. If there’s not an anti-bullying policy at the school, push for one. Finally, encourage your child to share just how vigilant an administrator you are. Encourage them to complain about it if you like.

5) Isolation

If your child isolates themselves, with their devices or without, they’re suffering. Adolescence is a time to figure out where you stand in the community and how you want to function in the world. Should you notice your child withdrawing and avoiding connections, part of their attraction or rejection of the real world could be an online connection. Be a tough administrator. Your child may hate it now, but their future safety could be on the line.

Radical changes in mood are common in adolescence. It could just be hormones, but it might be something far more sinister. If your child won’t talk to you, be ready to step in. Monitor their communications for anything suspicious.

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