Signs your child is talking to a predator and how to help them stay safe

Mar 23, 2022, 10:15 PM | Updated: Jun 18, 2022, 8:52 pm

After Utah saw two teen abductions this month, both from situations where predators met the teens online, the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force is giving crucial tips to parents on how to spot if their child is at risk of becoming a victim.

It is a worst-case scenario situation for parents: Their child disappears, at the hands of a person who has spent days to months grooming them and planning the abduction.

The fear isn’t far-fetched, as demonstrated twice in March.

Two weeks ago, a Roosevelt teen went missing from her home.  Police discovered she met a man through the Oculus virtual reality program, and allege that he took her in the back of a semi headed for Florida. Officers rescued the girl in Wyoming.

This week, an Amber Alert was issued for a Magna teen who police believe was coerced into leaving her home by a man she met on social media months ago.

That man is now in jail on kidnapping charges, after authorities found the girl in Texas.

With technology constantly evolving and new forms of communication emerging, it can be hard for parents to stay on top of it all explained Michell Busch-Upwall.

Busch-Upwall is the ICAC education specialist at the Utah Attorney General’s Office.

“One in five kids is sexually solicited online,” she said. “So that’s a really high stat. So it’s kind of a not ‘if,’ but ‘when’ question.”

To help prepare for that “when,” Busch-Upwall talked about how there are monitoring apps and software parents can use to stay on top of their children’s activities on their phones or computers.

Phone carriers like Verizon, she explained, even have options to keep track of the phone numbers children are texting.

But if a child doesn’t speak up and something slips past, the signs something is wrong may be outside of any smartphone, Busch-Upwall indicated.

She listed signs like a child or teen exhibiting anxiety, depression, or getting lower grades at school.

“Pulling away from their family, their friends, really being in more solitude,” Busch-Upwall said, of another sign. “Because what that predator wants to do is pull them away and be their lone support. They want to be that one and only person they trust.”

Watch for your child trying to suddenly change their looks, she said, or secretly receiving things in the mail like gifts.

“They’ll send them phones, so maybe that’s their line of access and they don’t have to let their parents know,” she explained. “Pushing down the computer when parents come in, because they’re secretive and they don’t want them to know who they’re talking to.”

The biggest thing Busch-Upwall stressed is for parents to talk with their kids about predators, grooming, and the dangers lurking behind their screens.

She said a lot of times, kids don’t communicate with parents because they feel like their phone or computer will get taken away and that is their lifeline.

“Having those open lines of communication and then keeping it so it’s not aggressive, it’s not in your face,” she expressed. “So that they feel comfortable when and if something like this does happen.”

In addition to keeping open communication and educating children on the risks online, she suggested parents know every device their child is using and every single app.

If a child wants to download an app like Snapchat, she urged parents to also download that app and become familiar with it, and understand its pros and cons.

This also goes for games.

“Making sure that we understand kind of what world we’re putting our kids in,” she said. “Making sure we understand how that works as adults.”

And finally, if a parent suspects their child is talking to or being groomed by a predator, Busch-Upwall recommended they reach out to local police or a school resource officer to report it.

They can also report it by emailing utahicac@agutah.gov, by calling 801-281-1211, or reporting online through the Cyber Tip Line run by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

KSL 5 TV Live

Local News

Some of the dozens of loaner life jackets that were donated to a Life Jacket Loaner Station at Jord...

Alex Cabrero

Over 900 loaner life jackets donated to Utah lakes and reservoirs

With Memorial Day weekend on the way, Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital is donating over 900 life jackets to loaner stations to help prevent drownings.

14 minutes ago

We're all guilty of slouching in our chairs. But did you know poor posture can cause serious health...

Emma Benson

Straightening up: How your posture affects your health

We're all guilty of slouching in our chairs. But did you know poor posture can cause serious health issues?

16 minutes ago

Three people suffered minor injuries following a small airplane crash Wednesday near Vernal. (Verna...

Mark Jones

3 people suffer minor injuries in small airplane crash near Vernal

Three people suffered minor injuries following a small plane crash Wednesday near Vernal.

46 minutes ago

Ysabelle Cuevas a is a nurse at Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital and also a also celebra...

Angie Denison and Michael Houck, KSL TV

Pop Star Nurse: Ysabelle Cueva pursues both of her passions

By day, Ysabelle Cuevas is a registered nurse at Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital. But her other passion is inspiring others with her music.

57 minutes ago

Chad Daybell stands next to his attorney, John Prior, during his murder trial in Boise on Apr. 18....

Daniel Woodruff

Prosecutors want to call more witnesses in Chad Daybell murder trial after defense rests

Prosecutors in the Chad Daybell murder trial in Idaho told a judge Wednesday they want to call several more witnesses as a rebuttal after the defense attorney rests his case.

2 hours ago

Twelve-year-old Kiara loves horse, cooking and trying new food. However, she’s looking for a fami...

Shara Park

Wednesday’s Child: 12-year-old Kiara loves horses, enjoys cooking and trying new foods

Twelve-year-old Kiara is looking for a family connection, a caring adult who can provide her with lifelong stability, a family that will love and guide her as she figures out who she wants to be.

3 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Electrician repairing ceiling fan with lamps indoors...

Lighting Design

Stay cool this summer with ceiling fans

When used correctly, ceiling fans help circulate cool and warm air. They can also help you save on utilities.

Side view at diverse group of children sitting in row at school classroom and using laptops...

PC Laptops

5 Internet Safety Tips for Kids

Read these tips about internet safety for kids so that your children can use this tool for learning and discovery in positive ways.

Women hold card for scanning key card to access Photocopier Security system concept...

Les Olson

Why Printer Security Should Be Top of Mind for Your Business

Connected printers have vulnerable endpoints that are an easy target for cyber thieves. Protect your business with these tips.

Modern chandelier hanging from a white slanted ceiling with windows in the backgruond...

Lighting Design

Light Up Your Home With These Top Lighting Trends for 2024

Check out the latest lighting design trends for 2024 and tips on how you can incorporate them into your home.

Technician woman fixing hardware of desktop computer. Close up....

PC Laptops

Tips for Hassle-Free Computer Repairs

Experiencing a glitch in your computer can be frustrating, but with these tips you can have your computer repaired without the stress.

Close up of finger on keyboard button with number 11 logo...

PC Laptops

7 Reasons Why You Should Upgrade Your Laptop to Windows 11

Explore the benefits of upgrading to Windows 11 for a smoother, more secure, and feature-packed computing experience.

Signs your child is talking to a predator and how to help them stay safe