The Digital Age is synonymous with life-changing technology that infiltrates the lives of all members of the global community. Technology has made the global community faster, more efficient, and indubitably more dangerous. Social media dominates the technological realm, offering thousands of unchecked, uncensored, and unapologetically intrusive mediums by which people across cultures and customs can communicate.
We teach our children the antiquated “stranger danger” lessons, preaching to them that it is unwise to accept a stranger’s invitation into a dilapidated utility van; yet we offer no advice to mirror the dangers that are prevalent in the digital community. Yes, the internet is dangerous. Yes, we have heard many times that the internet is dangerous. We have become so desensitized to the actual dangers of the internet because having the world at our fingertips is something that we are used to. When you use the internet every single day without encountering a predator, you become blind to the notion of predators being out there, lurking under the facade of online connections that social media outlets provide.
While Gen-Z and preceding generations grew up riding bikes and climbing trees, most of today’s youth grew up with tablets and iPads, becoming far more technologically competent than most adults. In 2018, Common Sense conducted a survey of American teenagers, finding that 70% of teenagers utilize social media multiple times a day. This figure is a 36% increase from the same study Common Sense conducted in 2012. The technological generations are well familiarized with the severity of cyberbullying and other negative impacts that social media might have, but we do not impart upon our children the prolific practice of grooming taking place on social media.
“Grooming” is the term used to describe the predatory process of gaining someone’s trust with the intent to later exploit them. Victims of grooming are usually children, teens, or other vulnerable populations who were manipulated into becoming a participant in their own exploitation. Traffickers target vulnerable individuals in order to gain trust and personal information before slowly isolating their target, sometimes creating a mirage of camaraderie and affection by offering to be a listening ear, an intimate partner, a mentor, a financial source, or a friend, among other things. With an extensive choice of social media platforms connecting all corners of the globe and the increased use of such platforms by young persons, the potential for grooming victims and luring them into trafficking is at an all-time high.
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