Sweets and Puppies

Protecting our children from ‘stranger danger’ in 2017

I recently attended an ‘E-Safety’ presentation at my children’s junior school. As someone who spends a lot of time online, I wasn’t expecting to learn much, but I found the evening to be a real eye-opener.

When we were children, being aware of ‘stranger danger’ was looking out for older men in raincoats offering us sweets, or enticing us to go and see their cute puppy. Well things have moved on, a long way, but many younger children have gained a perception from us that the main danger is still the dodgy-looking man outside school.

While there are still odd occurrences of white vans seen lurking around outside schools, by far the bigger dangers today are the strangers our children can encounter online through innocent looking games and apps. This means the risks are much greater, rather than being on the look out for one or two suspect individuals in the local area, they are being specifically targeted by multitudes of paedophiles from around the world.

This may not be the case where you are, but in the area where we live, it would seem that about 80-90% of 7-11 year olds have regular access to a smartphone or tablet. I’m still coming to terms with secondary school children having their own phone, so was quite surprised to discover how many of my children’s friends have their own smartphone.

I was quite surprised to discover how many of my children’s friends have their own smartphone

Despite being aimed at teenagers, three of the most popular apps amongst under 11s at the moment are:

musical.ly – (rated 12+) this allows you film yourself lip-syncing to a song from the charts, that you upload for others to see, in the hope that you might become the next Olly Murs or Miley Cyrus.

live.ly – (rated 12+) owned by musical.ly, this app takes it a stage further by allowing you to live stream your performance and gain instant messages of approval from those who are watching you in real-time.

ROBLOX – (rated 12+) this is a collection of blocky ‘Minecraft’ type mini games. You can write your own and join multiplayer games with other users. It encourages you to connect with others and chat to them, although it has a reputation for lots of bad language.

Other popular apps include Snapchat, Twitch, Movie Star Planet (MSP), Whisper and Pokemon GO.

The worrying thing about all of these is that they are known to be targeted by today’s version of the old men in raincoats, who are now tech-savvy 18-24 year olds with an unhealthy obsession for collecting images and grooming children.

If your children use this kind of app with a public profile (most do apparently), they can be sent messages and ‘gifts’ (as in-app purchases) to win their trust. They can be offered virtual coins in exchange for daring photos. Some can clone a child’s account to gain access to the child’s friends, so they think they’re only connected to people the know and can trust. Many of today’s ‘strangers’ derive great pleasure from amassing huge collections of videos and ‘selfies’ of school children that can easily be harvested from social media. Some will manage to get intimate photos sent to them that can be used to blackmail them for more.

We were told the worst thing we could do was to delete these apps from our child’s devices, or ban the use of devices altogether, as the children will often find ways of continuing in secret. The last thing we need is to encourage our children to be secretive about what they’re doing online. It’s important to let them know about the dangers and be willing to tell you if something is wrong. We can then help them make it safer. They should avoid making their profile public, if possible, and only engage in conversations with people they know – and avoid giving any personal details.

Many parents use blocking software on our computers to protect our children from porn etc., but we were told that porn is not the big issue amongst children that the government suggests (I’m not sure about that) and blocking software doesn’t tackle the real issues facing our kids today – openness and education is the best way. Having said that, I will continue to use parental controls on our family computer, but I won’t assume that having them in place means my kids are ‘safe’.

Our children do not have their own devices yet and are monitored and time-restricted when they do use one. (The ‘Guided Access’ feature on an iPhone/iPad will enable you to lock your device into a single app, so you have more idea of what your child is doing) However, we have already discovered that my son has been messaging someone while using an educational coding app and my daughter performed in a duet on musical.ly while at a friend’s house. Although these exchanges can be completely innocent, it goes to show how easily our children can be exposed to danger, while in the ‘safety’ of our own homes.

Our children can be exposed to danger while in the ‘safety’ of our own homes

Selfies (that give away your exact location through data attached to the photo) and Sexting (sending intimate pictures to a ‘trusted’ friend, that can then be made public) are growing issues amongst younger children, so they need to be aware of the dangers. There is a current trend for selfies to be ‘dangerous’, taken while hanging off a bridge etc.

These are very real issues that used to be just for teenagers, but now face many primary school pupils. Children are still being lured by sweets (“complete this dare and I’ll give you some app coins”) and puppies (“I can show you where to find a rare Pokemon”) but it’s in a different world to the one we grew up in. We have to experience it alongside our children and educate them to look out for the dangers as they navigate the narrow path through the enchanted forest of life.


Thanks to ‘The 2 Johns’ of EST E-Safety Training (Essex) for the enlightening presentation. Find out more at: esafetytraining.org


Here at CVM, we believe informing parents is very important, and we partner with Naked Truth & Romance Academy who both offer parent workshops, as well as lots of other fantastic help and information on healthy relationships, as well as education and recovery programmes to tackle the huge issue of pornography.