In our previous blog, Kids Are Meeting Up with Online Friends, we talked about how common it is for kids to meet up with people they’re communicating with on social media and while gaming. Since this practice is becoming more common, it’s imperative to talk to your kids about trust.

Too often I hear kids say, after just meeting a person, “I can tell that I can trust him/her.” This makes the hair on my neck stand up straight, especially knowing they’ve communicated with the person for about five minutes and people online can pretend to be anyone.

The attention one gets from a person online can be very compelling for some. Even adults can fall prey to meeting people online or in person who aren’t trustworthy, and be taken advantage of. We must teach kids how to assess for trustworthiness, so they are less likely to fall prey to online grooming.  (Grooming is when a predator builds a relationship with a child and gains their trust allowing them to take advantage and manipulate them.) 

Key points to make

Trustworthy people respect boundaries
They don’t try to push other’s boundaries. They are respectful and don’t ask people to do things that makes them feel uncomfortable. They don’t attempt to make others feel bad when they set boundaries.

Go with your gut
Teach kids to trust their instincts. When something doesn’t seem right, the person doesn’t seem genuine, something makes them feel uncomfortable, or the person seems off, they should go with their gut. Someone being too nice is a red flag, as well. If their gut is telling them not to trust someone, they shouldn’t.

“Trust me…” or “Don’t you trust me…”
When someone says “trust me” that is a red flag. People who are trustworthy don’t have to convince anyone to trust them because their behavior and actions over time prove it. Questioning someone for not trusting them is a red flag, as well.

Model trustworthiness
Parents, be trustworthy. Model to your kids how a truthful person acts. Your kids are watching you and will fashion their behavior after yours. They are especially watching how you interact with others, even your online activity.

Keep the lines of communication open
Show your kids that no matter what, they can come to you, especially if they are in over their head. Kids with strained relationships with their parents or guardians are easy targets for online predators.

Reward kids for being honest
If a response to honesty is just as severe as to lying, kids are more likely to lie. Parents who make a big deal about everything train their kids to be better liars. The chance of getting away with it is a better pay off than being honest.

Don’t make promises you can’t keep
Not following through on a promise not only negatively impacts your relationship with your child (disappointment is a hard pill to swallow for anyone), it also teaches them they shouldn’t expect people to do what they say they’re going to do.

The Trust Formula

Trust = doing the right thing + time

Time isn’t a couple of hours or days. Ask yourself:

  • Does the person make promises they cannot or won't keep?
  • Are they trustworthy people in other parts of their life?
  • Do they follow through with what they say they’re going to do?
  • Do they treat people well?
  • Do they treat you well in private and public?

Make these conversations "not a big deal" and part of everyday life. Look for teachable moments. This will help keep the lines of communication open. It's up to us to teach our kids this information and these skills. Lay the groundwork for kids to act responsibly and stay safe online.

Let us know how the conversation goes.

FOR KIDS: If a stranger contacts you online

Be cautious, because online predators prey on unsuspecting people. Their goal is to tell you what you want to hear and gain your trust, and rope you in.

It’s easiest to ignore a stranger and not respond. You can also set a boundary, “I don’t want to talk to you.” or “Leave me alone."

If someone is starting to make you feel uncomfortable (asking personal questions, talking overly sexual, asking for pictures), ignore, block, or delete them and report them to the app.

Watch for this common trick: Making you think you met before. If you don’t remember the person, you don’t know them. “Remember me, we met at … last week” or “I saw you at … you looked great.”

Don’t fall for “just do it once.” If they get you to do something once, they’ll keep asking for more.

Ask a trusted adult for help if you don’t know what to do.

If a stranger sends you sexually explicit pictures or videos, notify law enforcement or your school resource officer immediately.


Protect yourself

  • only accept friend requests from people you’ve met in person
  • keep account settings private on all social media profiles and apps
  • make sure location settings are turned off for each individual app
  • don’t give out personal information like name, age, address, phone number, school, hangouts, etc.

If a child meets someone online or in person and doesn’t think they can trust them, they can

  • block them or cut off contact
  • ask other’s advice – sometimes it's helpful to run things by a friend who’s not emotionally attached and on the outside looking in
  • blame it on their parents: "My parents won’t let me…"
  • ask a parent or a trusted adult for help
Cheryl Kosmerl, MSW, LCSW

Cheryl Kosmerl, MSW, LCSW

I'm a clinical social worker and child advocate. After more than 20 years of working with children and adolescents in a variety of settings I created Sexting Solutions, a successful program designed to teach kids to respect themselves and others, show empathy and stop abuse. Intended as an alternative to legal consequences for kids who were caught sexting, it focuses on building skills that develop a solid foundation for healthier adolescent years and beyond. Connect with me on LinkedIn by clicking the icon directly below.