As a mother of two, I was horrified when I saw the video about "Sweetie," a computer-modeled child who children's rights organization Terre des Hommes used to lure innumerable pedophiles looking for webcam action. The internet gives them easy access to children all over the world who are forced into webcam child sex tourism. I can't pretend to believe my children would be safe from such predators.

I've heard for years about the dangers of online predators. It's not safe for children to wander around alone these days, and the internet offers no exception. I recently saw an article on Upworthy.com that solidified my concern about children using the internet.

Terre des Hommes created a virtual girl, Sweetie, whose online persona gathered incriminating information on over 1,000 sexual predators from more than 65 countries... in just two and a half months.

Dutch child protection agency Terre des Hommes has used technology in a new way to identify sexual predators online. "Webcam Sex Tourism" is an increasingly popular way for pedophiles to exploit children all over the world, but especially in developing countries. These predators, most from prosperous countries, pay children to perform sexual acts for the camera. Terre des Hommes created a virtual girl, Sweetie, whose online persona gathered incriminating information on over 1,000 sexual predators from more than 65 countries... in just two and a half months. The information has been turned over to Interpol. Watch the video to meet "Sweetie."

The World Wide Web is no safe place for a child. You may think it's fun to set up social profiles for your little one, but you might think twice about that decision now that you've met Sweetie. Is her online persona so different from your child's? It is not important for a child's development that he be as addicted to the internet as his parents are. It is not necessary for him to tweet and snapchat and Instagram and Facebook all day. Our kids don't need it, and it's a dangerous place, so why even go there? And if you do choose to allow your child to participate in the online world of bullying and trolling and aggression we see every day, at least monitor their usage. Closely.

"There's no way to really prevent the potential for something embarrassing, bad or harmful from happening when kids use social media," says Liz Jostes, mom of two and co-owner of Eli Rose Social Media, LLC.

It's just not a good idea, from a safety standpoint. But if you decide your child is ready to be online, or you've already allowed them that privilege (responsibility?), Liz has some advice on steps you can take to attempt to keep your kids safe, though there are no guarantees:

  1. Have passwords to all accounts your kids do have.

  2. Don't allow the use of apps that you can't monitor.

  3. Keep their accounts 'private' when possible.

  4. Keep in mind how easy it is to take a screen shot. It can be done on a phone or a computer. Sure, you can go back and delete a photo or post, but that doesn't mean someone else out there didn't take a screen shot of it.

  5. Monitor hashtags on the platforms your kids do use. Clicking on a hashtag pulls up other content that includes that same hashtag. This is a way for your kids to find images and content they otherwise wouldn't.

  6. Social media moves fast, and its speed means you might post something before really thinking through it. "Think before you tweet" is a good motto.

  7. Talk to your kids about what they share on social media, the impact it could have on them in the short term or long term, and the potential downsides to being on social media (bullying, shaming, etc.). It's also important to note that adults have lost jobs, high schoolers have lost college scholarships, and graduates looking to start their careers have lost opportunities all due to what they've posted on social media.

Sweetie shows us some important things about the responsibility we have to protect our children in the virtual age. She shows us how easy it is for pedophiles to gain access to easy prey. Please, heed my advice and do not escort your child into social media... they'll find themselves there soon enough. And when they do, be that obnoxious parent who reads their messages and changes the internet password constantly. It's too easy for them to put themselves in harm's way. You need to be next to them for every step.

Terre des Hommes has started a petition to "pressure governments to adopt proactive investigation policies in order to protect children against webcam child sex tourism." Sign the online petition to help put a stop to this frightening trend.

More on internet safety

Kids on the internet: Safety tips for parents
7 Things your kids shouldn't share online
Young children and the internet

Photo credit: Terre des Hommes Nederland Facebook page

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