State attorney warns parents of online predators as kids spend more time at home during pandemic

Hillsborough County

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Damaris Allen is the mom of two boys, ages 13 and 16. The perils of the internet are top of mind for her family.

“You’re always concerned with the unknown, and because we can’t control what we don’t know, what we can do is equip our kids to make good decisions,” Allen said.

Hillsborough County’s State Attorney Andrew Warren wants to help kids make good decisions as well. He has introduced ways for parents to watch their child’s online activities, as cases of predators preying online go up in the Tampa Bay area and nationwide since kids have been home from school since March.

“Camps have limited capacity. Parents are stretched thin. Kids are spending more and more time online and that creates a perfect storm for online predators,” Warren said to 8 On Your Side.

Warren put together a two-minute video that underscores three things parents can do to help keep their kids safe:

  • Talk about the online world and the risks
  • Review what kids are sharing and know their passwords
  • Use parental controls to limit access

Warren said the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children saw a four-fold increase in referrals to law enforcement in April, up from a two-fold increase in March. Many kids across the country were home during those months as schools closed due to the coronavirus crisis.

“There’s a special place in hell for people who exploit and abuse kids. And we’re working closely with law enforcement to identify predators and aggressively prosecute them when we find them,” the state attorney said.

As for Allen, she plans to keep an eye on her kids’ activities and will teach them along the way.

“I’m not always going to survey them,” she said. “I’m not always going to watch them, but what I want to do is give them the tools to make good decisions, to be safe when I’m not there.”

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