10 Tips for Parents to Protect Children from Predators

10 Tips for Parents to Protect Children from Predators from trafficking victim Holly Austin Smith's book, Walking Prey.

1. Be proactive. Traffickers try to lure teens with promises of "a better life". Teens struggling with bullying, peer pressure or other social issues are particularly vulnerable. The earlier you teach your children effective coping skills, the better.

2. Encourage extracurricular activities. Encourage your children's interests. Having a skill, hobby or other interests helps a child to build self-esteem and self-identity, which is helpful as he or she faces puberty and all the insecurities that puberty brings. A trafficker can easily manipulate a child lacking a strong sense of self.

3. Teach media literacy. It is imperative to discuss what your children see and hear in the media -- and that includes online social media, where so many spend so much time. Teach them to determine what is entertainment, what is advertising and what is reality. Traffickers have a solid understanding of what popular culture is telling your kids.

4. Know who's reaching out to your child. Going to the mall was something I did almost every weekend with friends. And this is exactly where I met the man who trafficked me. Today, predators also can look for kids on the Internet. Even though your teenager may look like an adult, he or she is not. Your teens still need your guidance. Note: Predators come in all ages and genders. Women and children, sometimes victims themselves, often help lure unsuspecting teens away from home.

5. It’s OK to say no. Many images of women in the media are sexual. This teaches young girls that sex appeal equals value. Teach your girls that, despite what they see and hear, it’s OK to say no to anyone at any time, no matter what. Tell your boys that it’s OK to wait to have sex. Traffickers look for girls and boys who lack assertiveness and for those who have been exploited in the past.

6. Teach your child about sex. If you don’t teach your children about positive sexual health, who will?

7. Spend time, not money. Advertising is everywhere, from billboards to commercials to magazines. Ads tell children told over and over, “You have to have this.” A trafficker will often offer to buy trendy clothes or shoes to gain a child’s affection or trust. Help your kids understand that money and material things don’t equal self-value, self-identify or trust. Spend time as well as money on your kids.

8. Teach about the world around us. At 14, I felt isolated from the rest of the world. When I met the man who trafficked me, he promised cross-country road trips and visits to exotic lands. I believed him because I wanted these things. Expose your kids to other cultures, regions and interests. If you can’t afford to vacation, do it through reading, music, documentaries, maps and encyclopedias.

9. Teach that helping others is important. Volunteering can help your child keep things in focus. A healthy perspective on one’s own life will prevent attempted distortion by a stranger.

10. Get counseling if needed. If your child’s symptoms of depression or anger are disrupting school or home life, get professional help. Ignoring a child’s signals for help will only drive further away, possibly to seek solace from a stranger.