Warning Signs of Someone's Dangerous or Illegal Online Activity

Someone you know may feel scared or unable to ask for help.

It is important that we are able to recognize the warning signs that someone we know may be using the new technologies inappropriately and to assist them in seeking help. Although all members of the family can be affected, it is often an adult partner who suffers the greatest impact. However, it is not only adults who may harm children via the internet. Some young people use the new technologies to harm other children. Because anyone can create their own content via cell phones and social networking sites, some young people create their own illegal and inappropriate material, sometimes unwittingly, which puts themselves and others more at risk.

Access to the online world via computers, other communication devices and networks offers an experience of anonymity which increases the chance that both adults and youth will take risks and experiment with behavior they might never attempt in “real life”. By taking protective actions in advance and speaking up about questionable behavior, we can help prevent harmful use of the Internet.

Warning signs which may indicate dangerous or illegal online behavior

Many of the warning sign behaviors below may have legitimate explanations and be caused by other factors in a person’s life, or they may be inappropriate for other reasons. If you are worried, (and it is safe to do so), speak directly to the person you are worried about, talk to someone you trust, or consult with a professional.

Changes in Internet activity patterns

  • Starts to spend increasing amounts of time on the Internet and become preoccupied with it.
  • Needs to be online so frequently that it starts to impact their family and work life.
  • Increases their viewing of adult pornography.
  • Makes promises not to go online so frequently, and then break them.
  • Hides traces of online activity and storage of files.
  • Uses the new technologies with children while excluding other adults.
  • Shows or exposes questionable sexual material to children or teens.

Isolating behavior

  • Becomes emotionally distant and less available.
  • Withdraws from usual family and social activities.
  • Becomes secretive about their online activity, shutting the door of the room where they are using the computer and changing the screen if someone enters the room.

Changes in social behavior

  • Changes their sexual attitudes and preferences.
  • Meets up with children, young people and/or adults in real life who they have initially met online.

What to do if you have concerns about someone’s behavior online

It is very disturbing to suspect someone we know may be looking at abusive images of children. You may find yourself dismissing your concerns and reassuring yourself that this person would never do such a thing. If you are worried that someone is using the new technologies in a way that may be harmful to children, take some action. Offer them professional help so they can learn how to successfully change their behavior. Offer to review an internet addiction screening test together. Install internet filters. Set clear rules about how and when Internet access is allowed. Help them to “unplug” if necessary.

Adults and young people who are using the new technologies because of a sexual interest in children or to sexually abuse them need to seek help. If you see warning signs in someone you know, help is available.

Adapted with permission from Stop It Now! UK & Ireland, The Internet and Children – What’s the Problem,