For teenagers today, the world can be fraught with danger. Modern technology and modern lifestyles, combined with the challenges of puberty, results in young people with a tendency toward risk-taking behaviour being placed in potentially risky situations. Even the most attentive of families can miss warning signs of impending and growing issues, and family dynamics can cause even the most open of teens to hide important information from their caregivers.
While there is always a seemingly infinite number of parenting manuals and advice books on the market, there is no roadmap to parenting a teenager, and little actual guidance for avoiding the biggest pitfalls. Indeed, there are few strategy recommendations at all, beyond the blanket suggestion that you get to know your child’s situation a bit better in order to steer them away from the most damaging issues, and that you trust them to do the right thing. That’s all well and good but, when faced with a teenage communication problem, how do you continue to help them keep themselves safe?
The risks and dangers facing teenagers today
Once upon a time, the biggest dangers facing children and teenagers seemed to be building sites, water courses, and ‘stranger danger.’ Schools and child-focused television programming would remind young people not to play on railway lines and would remind parents not to decant disinfectant and bleach into empty drink bottles, to avoid accidental ingestion. These simpler times had their own challenges, of course, but in terms of guiding teenagers, things appeared to be relatively straightforward.
Now, potential danger lurks inside almost every activity, thanks in large part to the advent of mobile phones and the internet. Now, we have to worry about predators in cyber space, as well as in the park.
- Catfishing and grooming
The term ‘catfishing’ refers to the act of creating a social media profile for the purpose of deception. Paedophiles and other types of predators are known to use catfishing as a strategy to groom children and teenagers in online communities that spring up around popular games. Sometimes, adult predators pose as teenagers or children in order to gain the trust of their target, before either arranging to meet them in-person, or encouraging them to share personal information or images. Information or images can then be shared with other predators or used to blackmail the target.
- Cyber bullying
When bullies use the internet to attack their target, the impact can be devastating. It is one, terrible thing to call a young person names in the park or even in the street. It is quite another to start rumours and post hateful messages, comments and pictures on the internet where the entire world can potentially see them. The damage can be long-lasting and, in some cases, cause severe mental health issues.
While radicalisation can happen offline, the online world makes it much easier for children and teenagers to fall prey to the efforts of extremists. Radicalisation occurs when a person is encouraged to adopt extreme ideologies, and can be achieved through propagandist content, including videos, social media posts, and one-to-one conversations on message boards and in gaming groups. Extremist ideologies can arise in any area of society, with current, large-scale threats including white nationalism and right-wing extremism. The threat is so present in the lives of teenagers that schools and colleges routinely engage with the government-led PREVENT anti-terror scheme.
Teenagers and young people are all vulnerable to exploitation offline as well as on the internet. One of the biggest issues of exploitation currently facing police authorities around the country is the County Lines phenomenon, in which young and vulnerable individuals are groomed and coerced into trafficking and moving drugs from one location into another county. Apart from the consequences of becoming involved in criminal enterprise, County Lines drug supply can also plunge teenagers into situations that are physically, mentally, and sexually abusive.
Bullying in the offline world, or ‘IRL’ as teenagers like to call it, can be deeply damaging to physical and mental health. As young children get older and enter their teenage years, bullying can become more violent, and more emotionally vicious. It can also be perpetrated in combination with cyber bullying, which only amplifies the impact.
- Gang violence
While County Lines exploitation is often run through gangs, there are also many instances of gangs existing for the main objective of committing violence. These types of gangs are usually particularly territorial, and violence erupts over perceived invasions of a gang’s claimed domain, or over perceived instances of disrespect between different gang groups. The result can often be an increased number of stabbings or beatings – some of which prove to be fatal.
For the majority of these risks and dangers, the only tools available to parents and caregivers are attempts at communication. It is an understandable instinct to try to ask questions about new friends and contacts, and activities outside the home. While this can be effective in some instances, it is also the case that issues of radicalisation and exploitation, in particular, can result in a lack of communication on the part of the young person.
Radicalisation works by essentially driving a wedge between the target and the things and people that anchor them to their life. Though a young person may be drawn to radical groups by the promise of connection that they feel is lacking in their normal life, this sense of not belonging is common in teenage, and not a reason to submit to extremist ideologies. Those predators recruiting for radical agendas, however, succeed by programming young minds to disengage with the people in their normal lives to the extent that communication becomes prohibitively difficult to achieve.
Exploitation does the same thing – removing a young person’s will to communicate openly with the people in their normal life – but succeeds through the threat of violence. Oftentimes, the predator or predators will convince the target that their family will be hurt or even killed if they do not comply with the instructions of the abuser. This incentivises the young person to keep their exploitation hidden from their parents or caregivers, removing the opportunity for early intervention.
Getting early help with Private Investigation
There are many online resources for parents and caregivers concerned about their child’s situation, including advice and guidance from organisations such as the UK Safer Internet Centre, the NSPCC, and the branch of the UK police named the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Command (CEOP). These are vital agencies helping many young people and their families every month. In addition to reaching out to these types of agencies, it is also possible to engage the services of a reputable, professional Private Investigation firm, to ensure that you have all the information you need to help keep your young person safe.
The field of Private Investigation involves a number of cutting-edge technologies, strategies and methods that are easily applied – legally and ethically – to situations in which suspicions around the activities and situation of a young person exist.
- Electronic surveillance
It is entirely legal for you to consent to electronic surveillance of systems, devices, and networks that you own. This means that all the computers you own in your home can be monitored, with all activity and contacts logged and recorded. If you feel that you need to know what your teenager or young person is accessing over the internet, but they keep deleting their search history, then electronic monitoring can give you the information you need. Messages and electronic communications can also be monitored. This not only gives you peace of mind but, if there is a problem at hand, it also provides a wealth of evidence that is admissible in court.
- Mobile surveillance
If you suspect that your young person or teenager is falling prey to exploitation or is involved in gang violence, then mobile surveillance can provide either reassurance of their safety, or court admissible evidence. Trained and qualified Private Investigators can track individuals on foot, in cars, and even overseas if necessary, which can deliver intelligence comprised of photographs, videos, and comprehensive activity logs. This can uncover the truth of your child’s situation, while also delivering the means to identify those involved in perpetrating the exploitation.
- Static surveillance
Exploitative operations such as County Lines drug running often operate from a single location. If other intelligence gathering efforts have identified a potential location, then static surveillance can either confirm that to be true or clear it of suspicion. Likewise, suspected single locations of gang operations can also be surveilled. Like mobile surveillance, static surveillance provides photographic and video evidence, and also comprehensive activity logs.
- Background checks
If you have become aware of an individual communicating with your child – either on the internet, or in ‘real life’ – then it is entirely legal for you to engage the services of a Private Investigation firm to run a background check on the individual in question. This type of check uses publicly available records to confirm the identity of a person and uncover some of their history. Using social media profiles, trained Private Investigators can discover whether your teenager’s new 14-year old online gaming friend is really a child. Identity can further be confirmed using records of births, marriages and deaths, criminal records, driving and vehicle registration records, financial records, and property registers. This type of intelligence gathering can be helpful in communicating with a young person, when trying to explain to them the danger that the individual poses to them.
OpSec Solutions is a Private Investigation firm with a well-earned, demonstrable reputation for achieving results with the utmost discretion and confidentiality. That means, you can engage the services of highly experienced personnel drawn from military, police and corporate backgrounds, safe in the knowledge that your child’s information is completely protected. With full accreditations from the Association of British Investigators and the UK Private Investigator Network, along with registered status from the Information Commissioner’s Office, OpSec Solutions can help to resolve your concerns about your child’s situation by sensitively uncovering the truth. Call today to find out more.