“Mum, an online friend asked me to touch my private part. Why?” asked a primary schoolgirl, innocently and curiously.
Alice who was busy working extra time at her desk, dropped her pen, with mouth agape and eyes wide.
As her eldest daughter Alia repeated the question, fear and anger engulfed Alice. The tiger mum in her was instantly aroused to protect her child.
“Who said that?!” asked Alice in a high-pitched voice. Her crunched facial expression and loud voice must have frightened the poor girl, who was unaware of the danger she was in.
Soon, the truth was revealed. Alia had received an invitation to join an online chat group a month earlier and, naively, she joined.
Upon checking the messages in that chat group, Alice was certain her daughter had stepped into the territory of sexual predators. Her trepidation was quickly replaced by a sense of relief that Alia was safe. She was lucky.
Feeling bewildered about the strange request had prompted Alia to ask that question. If she had not, she could easily have ended up as a victim of sextortion.
Virtual learning, an enabler of continuous education in MCO times, had made online access a necessity for schoolchildren. Young children were given computers, tablets or handphones for that purpose. However, due to the ignorance of a young mind and the lack of parental guidance, children can become easy targets for immoral meddling.
As the first line of defence, parents ought to talk openly to their children about online sex crimes in order to create awareness of such threat, teach them to identify red flags, and encourage them to report suspicious cases.
Children must be taught what constitutes inappropriate touches and obscene acts. They learn by example and from observing happenings around them. A child who is shown gestures of affection like cuddling and kissing at home may think such behaviour is acceptable anywhere and with anyone. As such, parents need to set boundaries.
Similarly, a child who is used to seeing their siblings naked may think a peeping Tom has done no wrong. So, it is imperative to teach them that such unwanted gestures constitute harassment and molestation, and is a crime.
As we adopt a more liberal culture, imitating the West, more dating couples are living together and prenuptial sex is on the rise, actions that would have been shunned just a generation earlier. And our children are watching and learning on the sideline.
How I wish for our conservative culture regarding sex and sexual behaviour to be preserved.
Now that the threat is real and lurking near, making time for parent-child bonding to cultivate trust and closeness, and creating a safe place for discussion about anything and everything has become essential and urgent. No child should end up as prey or grow up to be a predator.
Parents must learn to use technology to protect their children, for instance, by blocking access to shoddy online sites, mandating parental consent for account creation, and enabling tracking of online activities.
After the storm had settled, Alice – still shaken by the narrow escape – related her experience in the parental chat group, cautioning parents that sexual predators were constantly in search of their next victim. She reminded parents to be aware of where their children were roaming in the cyber world. Armour up, parents.