How to Navigate the Perils of Social Media as the Parent of a Youth Athlete

February 12, 2020 | Stacy Pendarvis

Imagine this…

Your phone rings and you answer it. A voice you’ve never heard says, “Ms. Smith, this is Agent Marks from the FBI and we need to talk to you about your daughter/son.”

An hour later, the doorbell rings and you open the door to find two FBI agents on your front porch. You anxiously invite them in and what they proceed to tell you is like a punch to your core. You learn that your child has been sexually exploited and there are explicit images of them online.

What you learn is like something out of a movie – nothing you would ever imagine happening in real life to your child or you. But now you know…it can happen to you and your child – and it did.

What we’re talking about is online exploitation. There are many types of online exploitation, including grooming, sextortion, live streaming, and curating, manipulating and/or sharing graphic images online.

Preventing Social Media Exploitation as an All Star Parent

But imagine…

What if instead of waiting for that call or that knock at the door, you learn the harsh truths associated with social media use and your child posting pictures online. You learn how girls and boys are targeted and manipulated by online predators for sexual exploitation and how those same predators tag and share images with each other. And you learn how to prevent that from ever happening to your child.

As an All Star parent, you are fortunate. The USASF is tackling this global issue and is working to equip owners and coaches, and now parents and athletes, with the knowledge and tools needed to navigate this ever-increasing online danger. We hope this article is just the beginning of you learning about these issues and how to protect your children.

The Reasons Behind the Perils of Social Media

There are many factors contributing to this problem. The wide-spread use of the internet and social media, the anonymity of online users, the ease of sharing images, and the nature of many images now posted online by youth. Images of youth have become hypersexualized and many people have become desensitized to it. The result of all of this is a dramatic increase in sexual abuse and exploitation.

In fact, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reported that over 45 million online images and videos of child sexual abuse were flagged in 2018. That’s a huge jump from the 1 million flagged and reported in 2014. Predators are using social media as a breeding ground to groom kids and exchange exploited images between one another. They use hashtags to easily find both images and victims, and they use seemingly innocent photos of children and teens for unintended, sexualized purposes. They also use hashtags as a tool to communicate with kids and with other predators on social media.

Exploitation can happen unintentionally when a youth posts a photo that is easily found and manipulated into something more explicit. The photos are then shared using various websites and specific hashtags. Other times, youth themselves unknowingly share sexual images with predators. This is often part of a grooming process whereby the predator establishes a relationship with a girl or boy and grooms them into thinking they are a safe person. The unintended consequences can be devastating. All youth are at risk, but when talking about youth athletes in particular, many are at an increased risk because they want to be liked and want to gain followers and become online influencers.

5 Ways Parents can Reduce the Risk of Social Media Exploitation

But, you and your child can take steps to minimize the risk:

  1. Have ongoing and open conversations about your child’s internet and social media use and the risks involved. Ask them about their online use and together come up with a plan for safe online behaviors. Let them know you don’t want to stop their online social media use or sharing, just that you want to help them learn to be responsible and safe.
  2. Sending and receiving “sexy selfies” is a part of everyday life for many teens, but it can have negative consequences. Ask them before posting or sending any picture to ask themselves questions such as: Is this something I would do face-to-face? Would I be okay with this photo being seen by my grandparents or coach or being posted in my school’s hallway? And before asking anyone for sexy photos asking themselves if they would want someone to ask them for the same thing?
  3. Ensure your accounts and your child’s accounts are all set to private. Often this is counter to what young athletes do because they are eager to gain followers and influence others, however this increases the risk that their images may be accessed and manipulated by predators.
  4. Ensure that you and your child don’t include geotags and locations when posting images online – especially the location of your child’s school, gym, athletic events, or neighborhood. Sharing locations give predators a way to find your child in real life.
  5. Always remember there is an unintended audience that may view images that are posted online, and may manipulate them to exploit your child.

Signs of Online Exploitation for Young Athletes

Unfortunately, we can’t be with our children on the web at all times, and there could be a chance that your child’s photos might be exploited. Signs that a child may be the victim of online exploitation (or other dangers) include:

  • Spending large amounts of time online.
  • Becoming increasingly secretive about their use of technology.
  • Not wanting you to follow their social media accounts or know their passwords.
  • Turning off their phone or changing their website when a parent or someone else enters the room.
  • Not wanting to talk openly about their online activity.
  • Being vague about their activities and locations when they are out.
  • Being vague about their friends.

What to Do when you Suspect Online Exploitation

In the event you suspect your child has been exploited online, here are some guidelines to follow:

Communicate with the Youth Athlete

Talk to your child and ask them to share things that are concerning to them. Let them know you will not judge them, but you just want to help.

Never Repost Images

If your child receives a sexual image, or if you discover explicit images of your child online, do not repost or share any explicit pictures to tell others of the danger or to report.

Report and Communicate Exploitive Material

Report the image, and website URL to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s Cybertipline at 1-800-THE-LOST or

Remember, the best line of defense is to communicate with your child. Honest, open conversations become a two-way street for sharing dangers and behaviors that increase risk and allow your child a safe place and time to discuss their online behaviors with you.

MBF PEP_ColorThere are additional dangers youth face such as cyberbullying and dangers from mobile apps, online pornography, gaming, and more. The Monique Burr Foundation for Children (MBF) is proud to partner with USASF to help them protect their youth athletes from bullying, cyberbullying, abuse and exploitation with our MBF Athlete Safety Matters program. The MBF website also has many free resources to help you become better educated and empowered to protect your child from victimization.

Protecting Youth, both Online and Off

One of those resources is a one-hour online training provided at no cost, Real World Safety: Protecting Youth Online and Off. To access this course, visit our website and click on Learn More/Online Trainings.

Watch this video and then visit the MBF website at

MBF Stacy Pendarvis

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