Are you a parent of pre-teens or teens? Do you track their social media use or talk to them about safety online?
It can be overwhelming to keep on top of all the latest platforms and accounts kids are engaging with and all the threats to their privacy, mental health, and safety. Managing rules about the time they’re spending online, who they’re engaging with, what kind of information they’re sharing, and what they’re exposing themselves to—and helping them understand the ramifications that might persist for years to come—is a steep learning curve for all of us.
Now imagine trying to do that as an immigrant, when your kids are engaging in a language in which you’re not fluent.
Imagine that you’ve never been taught how to read or write, let alone use the internet.
Imagine that you feel ashamed that your kids are navigating a world totally foreign to you, which you feel ill-equipped to talk to them about. You have vague concerns, but how do you articulate them? How do you know what you need to protect them from? How do you begin to guide them?
For many of the parents we work with in migrant communities, this is the situation they’re facing: they’ve escaped Burma to make a life for themselves and their children in Thailand, and while they’re struggling to get their bearings and make ends meet, their kids are coping with loneliness by seeking attachments online.
Where we work, the dangers are very present and real. Many of the children we work with have had risky contact with strangers online. In a study of males engaged in the sex trade in northern Thailand, nearly 30% said they had been under 18 when first engaging in the sex trade and 95% of the respondents say they meet their clients online. Trafficking for labor is also a real threat, with the rise of people being trafficked via false job offers in order to force them to commit scams and fraud online. When we share about these threats in our awareness raising sessions, people from the community tell us that they too have encountered these job offers online.
How We Work to Prevent Online Exploitation
Our work in child trafficking prevention always seeks to go both deep and broad. Our scholarship students benefit from close mentorship relationships with our staff mentors, and through this close bond, our staff is able to help monitor students’ online activity, advise them if they are engaging in risky behavior, convince them to take protective measures, and show them how to protect themselves.
We also hold regular events, in both small and large groups, in which we teach parents and children about online safety.
For example, this quarter, we held workshops in different communities, talking to over 180 parents about the safe use of social media, avoiding fraudsters—even charming ones—navigating privacy settings, and the considerations of sharing personal information.
The parents were very grateful for the help. As one parent said, “Thank you very much for teaching me. We are very happy because we never knew about this. Even though we had encountered deception, we never knew who to contact. Now we know what to do. Thank you.”
These workshops were part of our larger programming spreading awareness to scholarship students and the general public about online safety. So far this year, we’ve trained 816 students across northern Thailand, plus 30 student leaders who can serve to support their peers.
Lacking education, lacking money or socio-economic status, and having little access to information shouldn’t get in the way of parents’ ability to protect their children from online threats that are reaching into their communities. We’re working to spread awareness in these most vulnerable groups so that no child is left unprotected from predators online.