TRENTON — I recently hosted a special Town Hall program on internet safety. As a parent, I was alarmed at how sophisticated and devious sexual predators are when stalking their prey online.

State Police investigators went into great detail about how predators identify vulnerable kids, and "groom" them to become victims. They look for kids who seem unpopular, seeking out those who don’t get enough "likes" on their photos and posts.

To many of us, this may seem silly or unimportant. It’s not. If your child mentions they posted a photo to social media, and "no one liked it," don’t dismiss it.

Child psychologist Dr. Steven Tobias warned that can give a predator the way in to your kid's life. So much of our children’s self-worth is directly linked to how much attention they get in the online world, and it can be devastating if they are not getting the positive feedback they desire. As parents, if we dismiss their concerns about their "likes," it can further their depressed feelings, making them a ripe target for a predator to swoop in and give them positive feedback.

Often, that’s how the grooming process starts. A stranger starts to like their photos. Then they begin talking. In the course of that talking, the predator convinces a child no one else, especially their parents, likes or understands them the way they do. Before you know it, your child is being groomed to send inappropriate photos or even make arrangements to meet their new "friend."

Parental Warning
Photo courtesy of the New Jersey State Police

If Santa had high-tech, internet-connected devices in his bag for your kids this Christmas, it’s up to you to make sure your kids are using them safely. Aside from the more common Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and other social media platforms, above is a list of other apps and games for which you should monitor your child’s devices. The experts say if your children have an app on their phone, you should have it too — and know how to use it.

Eric Scott is Vice President, Senior Political Director and Director of Special Projects for New Jersey 101.5. He anchors "New Jersey's First News" and weekday morning newscasts from 5 to 10 a.m., in addition to hosting a monthly Town Hall series.

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