Online predator warning as kids plug in Christmas gifts

Families are being warned to be mindful of keeping children safe from predators on gaming and other smart devices over Christmas.

Reports of online child exploitation incidents spike after holiday periods as young people spend longer on their devices, authorities say.

While many parents think apps and games designed for children are safe, they often have online functions such as in-game chat and direct messaging, the Australian Federal Police said on Wednesday.

These functions are popular methods for child sex offenders to connect with potential victims.

After gaining kids' trust, criminals can encourage them to move to more private platforms with image-sharing functions.

"With just three per cent of parents and carers listing online grooming as a concern, it’s never been more important to understand the challenges children and young people can face," said AFP Commander Helen Schneider of the Centre to Counter Child Exploitation.

The AFP-led centre received more than 40,000 reports of online child exploitation incidents in 2022/23.

It encourages parents to get to know the features of the games and apps their kids are using, even if they are advertised as being child-friendly.

Supervision, tweaking privacy settings and having open conversations with children are recommended to help keep them safe.

"Supervision or oversight can be different for different families," Cmdr Schneider said.

"It can also be different depending on your child’s age and what they do online.

"Either way, it is important to take interest in what your child is doing online and who they are talking to."

It was critical that young people felt supported if parents were concerned about any issues kids had experienced online, as a lack of trust was often exploited by predators.

But Cmdr Schneider said she did not want parents thinking they should prevent their children from using the internet, as long as they did it safely.

"There are many positive aspects to gaming and being online for children and young people, learning to problem solve and socialise with their friends is a huge part of their lives," she said.

1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732)

National Sexual Abuse and Redress Support Service 1800 211 028

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