Young smiling girl looking at computer screen

Parenting: How to Protect Your Child From Violence, Exploitation and Abuse

Childhood today is full of threats—from bullying to school shootings. With vigilance, dialogue and a few practical steps, you can help keep kids safe. Some guidance and resources for parents and caregivers.

A scary list of threats face today’s children and teens, especially online. But as they get older, it’s almost impossible to keep a child off social media. A 2023 survey by the Pew Research Center found that most teens aged 13 to 17 have used Snapchat, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube or other platforms, with some teens reporting using them almost constantly.

Today's hyperconnected kids are easy targets for exploitation. Social media sites can be particularly treacherous as bullies, predators, scammers and other criminals continue to find ways to reach kids and teens. Problems like bullying, and sextortion or predatory contact are not always obvious. Kids are often too embarrassed to tell their parents or caregivers about it. And it can affect their mental health.

With vigilance, dialogue and a few practical steps, parents and caregivers can help keep kids safe.

Related: 8 Strategies to Keep Your Child Safe — Online and Off

Staying safe from online predators: guidance from the FBI

The FBI's website provides helpful guidance on how to stay safe from online predators. For example:

Never send compromising images of yourself to anyone, no matter who they are—or who they say they are.

Do not open attachments from people you do not know.

Turn off your electronic devices and web cameras when you are not using them. Or cover them.

As with other potential dangers, monitor your kids' and teens' social media and gaming sites and, if you are worried they've been scammed, their phone messages. Talk to them about these scams.

To learn more, visit

Reducing the risks of child trafficking

Human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. Every year, millions of men, women and children are trafficked worldwide, according to the U.S. Department of Defense

Traffickers often groom their victims as friends or romantic partners. Children and teens are especially vulnerable because they are trusting and often don't recognize they're in danger, so they can be more easily manipulated.

Read one mother's story.

What parents and caregivers can do to protect children:

  • Teach your kids to be wary of people they don't know, both online and in person.Tell your kids that If what someone is offering seems too good to be true, it usually is. And if they make requests that make your kid uncomfortable, tell them to say no, cut off contact and let you or another trusted adult know.
  • Turn off location services when your child is posting on social media. Check your child's social media and gaming sites and if you are concerned, check their phones. 
  • Make sure they know they can turn to you without judgement. Having regular, casual conversations from an early age will make it easier for them to talk to you when there's a problem.

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) has a digital citizenship and safety program,, which uses games, animated videos, classroom-based lesson plans and activities to help empower children to make safer choices online.

If you suspect someone is a victim of trafficking, contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline by calling 1-888-373-7888, texting 233733, or starting a web chat; advocates are available 24/7.

Nearly one in five girls is sexually abused at least once in her life. In the United States, 18 percent of girls report that by age 17, they have been victims of a sexual assault or abuse at the hands of another adolescent. Learn more.

Protecting children from internet scams

Scammers are targeting kids and teens in every way possible, from trying to get personal and financial information through offers of discounted products, online contests, quizzes and games or phishing texts, posing as a real company asking for their password, or offering fake scholarships or jobs, or enticing them to join a talent contest.

The credit reporting agency Experian offers these great tips on protecting your child and yourself:

  • Talk to kids about the risks of online scams and what to watch out for.
  • Remind kids not to click links in emails, texts or pop-ups; if the message appears to come from a known site, they should visit the site directly instead.
  • Remind kids never to share their own or a family member's personal information online, including: their real name (have them create user names instead), address, birth date, school, social security number, phone numbers, payment card or bank account numbers.
  • Remind kids never to share passwords, even with friends.
  • Don't give children your payment card information or save the information to accounts they access.
  • Use built-in browser pop-up blocker options and pop-up browser extensions to minimize risks of malicious pop-ups.
  • Purchase a password manager family plan to create and manage unique passwords for each account you and your family use.
  • Check your child's credit report through a consumer credit bureau (Experian,TransUnion or Equifax); you can also freeze your minor's credit report, which foils fraudsters.

If your child falls victim to an online scam, report it to the FTC.

Helping your child deal with bullying and cyberbullying

Bullying is rampant in person as well as online. The CDC says that about one in five high school students reported being bullied on school property, and more than one in six said they had been bullied electronically in the past year.

Twice as many high school students who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual experienced bullying at school or electronically in the last year, compared to heterosexual high school students.

Cyberbullying — the intentional and repeated harm inflicted on someone through the internet, social media, texts and games using digital devices like cell phones and computers — is common among kids and teens. It can involve name-calling, physical threats, spreading rumors and posting explicit pictures of someone. 

When communicating online, indirectly instead of face-to-face or on the phone, it is easier to be cruel. Kids text all sorts of things that they would never say to anyone’s face. (Sadly this is true for adults too.) But it can emotionally damage a child. 

  • Set a good example by teaching your child to be kind; review appropriate behavior online and in person.
  • Don't respond It's best not to engage with the bully. Instead get friends to provide support online with positive comments, a good way to deflate the negativity. You can also block them and take screenshots of the harmful comments and content.
  • Report it. Tell the school. If online, contact the platform. If a child is physically threatened, or you suspect criminal behavior, report it to local law enforcement.
  • Online Check their settings—Google’s parent company, Meta established policies in 2022 enabling high privacy settings for users younger than 16 and making it more difficult for people they don’t know to chat with them.They also set up a link to report harassment. See Google families for more tips.
  • Have regular conversations with your child to find out how they are doing. Talk to them about bullying. Let them know they can come to you with a problem or can turn to someone they trust like a teacher or school counselor. They can also call a 24/7 helpline StopBullying Now at 1-800-273-8255. 

Several government agencies provide good advice on cyberbullying. The FTC has advice on how to protect kids online and deal with bullying. has helpful tips and a downloadable guide.

Related: Protecting Your Child From Cyberbullying

Responding to the rise in gun violence

More than 357,000 students have experienced gun violence at school since Columbine in 1999, according to an analysis by the Washington Post. School shootings are part of today's education landscape, and kids are all too aware of the potential violence around them.

An estimated 4.6 million American children live in a home where at least one gun is kept loaded and unlocked.  These improperly stored weapons have contributed to school shootings, suicides and the deaths of family members, including infants and toddlers.

If you have a weapon at home, make sure it is unloaded and safely stored in a locked, secure place. If your child goes to a family or friend's house, ask them if they have guns and how they are stored. Recent studies by the U.S. Secret Service have found that roughly three-quarters of school shooters get their firearm from the home of a parent or close relative.

Review an action plan with your child. Ask their school's administrators — and local law enforcement — what training they have received and what plan they have in place; discuss the plan with your child. Teach your child to know the signs and how to act. If there is a shooter, they should find an escape route or hiding place.

Sandy Hook Promise has programs to help train students to look for warning signs and threats and how to speak up before tragedy happens. Everytown for Gun Safety provides additional info.

Preventing child abduction

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children says to avoid using the phrase "stranger danger," the potential threat posed by strangers, since non-family abductions make up only 1 percent of the missing children cases reported to NCMEC. But abductions, whether from strangers, family or others, are a real threat.

What parents and caregivers can do to help keep kids safe:

  • Tell your children that if they are approached by an adult, they should stay alert because this may be a “trick. It's okay to say "No" if they feel threatened. 

  • Teach them they can be assertive in order to protect themselves against abduction and exploitation. Say "no," run, scream, fight back, tell a trusted adult or call 911.

  • Young children should know their full name, home phone number and how to use the telephone. Post your own contact information where your children will see it: office phone number, cell phone, pager, etc. Know where they are going.

  • Get the FBI child ID app. The app provides a convenient place to electronically store photos and other vital information about your child. You can quickly show the pictures and provide physical identifiers such as height and weight to security or police officers.

Report missing children to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) at 1-800-THE-LOST (843-5678) or through the Cybertipline.

Sexploitation: sexting scams and revenge porn

Sextortion is a common scam in which a predator, often posing as young person, befriends a teenager online, gets them to send compromising photos and then extorts money by threatening to expose the photos to friends and family. It can also involve grooming kids to meet face-to-face with someone for sex, or taking pictures that can later be sold or traded.  Even ex-boyfriends and ex-girlfriends can seek revenge online, posting incriminating pictures or information.

In 2022, the FBI reported a "staggering increase" in cases of financial sexploitation involving thousands of teen boys who had been blackmailed after sending nude photos of themselves to someone they met online.

There are other methods predators use as well. They may hack into electronic devices using malware to gain access to files, or secretly gain control of a phone or computer's camera and microphone.

Those whose children have been hacked or scammed are advised to cut off all communication and block the scammer; never send money; and to refrain from deleting conversations but isntead take screen shots for evidence that you can give to the authorities.

Parents and caregivers are also advised to alert the platform, the FBI (at 1-800-CALL-FBI) and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).

Learn more: Read the UNICEF USA article, "Not An Object: On Sexualization and Exploitation of Women and Girls."

Learn about how UNICEF works around the world to ensure children are protected and respected.


TOP PHOTO: Today's kids' hyperconnectivity make them an even bigger target for exploitation. With vigilance, dialogue and a few practical steps, parents and caregivers can help keep kids safe. © UNICEF/UN0569848/Altaf Ahmad
TOP PHOTO: Today's kids' hyperconnectivity make them an even bigger target for exploitation. With vigilance, dialogue and a few practical steps, parents and caregivers can help keep kids safe. © UNICEF/UN0569848/Altaf Ahmad