HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY – As several school districts across Tampa Bay take steps to extend their summer breaks by two more weeks, Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren is delivering a warning for parents: Be watchful, because now may be the most dangerous time ever for online predators.
“Summer camps are limited. Parents are stretched thin. It’s a perfect storm for predators,” Warren said.
During the pandemic, the Hillsborough State Attorney’s Office has seen attempts by online predators to exploit children. Prosecutors said they worry this summer may be even worse because of a lack of childcare, combined with parents stretched thin by work and stress.
In a video released through social media, Warren gives parents three key tips for a secure summer. The tips help keep children safe as they use the internet to learn, play games, and stay in touch with friends.
The three tips:
- Talk about it. Make sure your child knows that the online world has people who may try to take advantage of them. Explain how they may be approached, and that strangers sometimes pretend to be a kid their age. That dialogue will help your kids understand that they should come to you if someone tries to exploit them or bully them online.
- Review what they’re sharing. Know their social media and messenger passwords, and log in from time to time to see what they’re sending and receiving. Make sure they’re using strong privacy settings on services like Instagram, Facebook, Twitch, and Discord.
- Use parental controls. Many devices and apps let you choose what your child can access, and for how long. Set up those controls and use them.
“It’s so important to talk with your kids before they ever face a dangerous situation online,” said child advocate Damaris Allen, immediate past president of the Hillsborough County PTA. “Can it be tough to have conversations about this? Absolutely. But as parents, our number one job is to keep our children safe—even if it means having some awkward conversations or learning a little more about the technology they’re using.
“Parent Teacher Associations at schools all over Hillsborough County are doing great work to help educate parents and students about internet safety. During the summer break is when we really need to put that knowledge to use.”
Last year, the national CyberTipline received more than 150,000 reports from the public relating to children across America being taken advantage of online.
As the father of two young daughters, Warren said he takes this issue very seriously.
“Children are already becoming victims during the pandemic. Predators are capitalizing on how much unsupervised time kids are spending online. Over the summer break, we’re worried this will get worse,” Warren said.
Prosecutors in the State Attorney’s Office work hand-in-hand with law enforcement to aggressively prosecute predators who try to set up an encounter with a child or force them into human trafficking. The office’s Victim Assistance Program offers support to thousands of victims of crime each year, including human trafficking and child exploitation.
Hillsborough State Attorney | Crime | Andrew Warren | Cyber Crime | Tampabay News | News Tampa
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