We have a neighbor, he’s a single Dad, with two girls ages 7 and 12. Sometimes our kids play outside in the afternoon on the weekends. One afternoon as I walked up to the kids outside, I happened upon the last few seconds of a “TikTok” video that our neighbor’s 12 year old daughter was making. As I approached she quickly turned off the phone and put it in her pocket. What was most disturbing about this 5 second observation was not that I surprised her as I walked up to check on the kids outside playing, it was that she was in her bathing suit while making this video, even though it was just a few seconds, and my child, although not in the video was right next to her doing something else. The way she moved her hips and flipped her hair, it just didn’t look natural if there is such a thing. I didn’t say anything to her or to my kids. We ended up swimming that day. I held my tongue. I just started noticing more.

Two days later the whole picture comes into focus while our family is out at dinner. Our neighbor’s 12 year old daughter is obsessed with her phone (what 12 year old isn’t these days?) she doesn’t let anyone ever have it. It’s always with her, which kind of gets weird when you’re trying to play foursquare outside with your siblings. She’s obsessed with the phone because she’s taking pictures of herself for Instagram and selling them online for money or points in this app called TikTok. Now if that wasn’t cause for concern enough, she recently shared that she has over 60,000 followers online.

Mind you, she’s not an “influencer,” she isn’t “branding herself” right now on social media. What’s she’s branding herself for is human trafficking. This is how close we are to this friends. That’s how it’s crept up into our neighborhoods. Selfie’s with addresses in the background and location based posting. If you’re in the News media, by all means, these things a relevant, but as a child. A child is inherently vulnerable. It’s our job as the parents--the protectors and the adults--in this situation to do something, to say something. To put the phone down and have a conversation with them, eye to eye.

So who do you know? Who do you know that has a child with a cell phone? Because those are the next victims in this cycle. Who do you know that isn’t monitoring their child’s messages or DM’s or “private DM” accounts? That was one of the questions I was asked as our families stood outside in our driveway and finally talked about what was happening. “How did you know about the bathing suit photo?” she said. I walked outside and looked around. It’s hiding in plain sight friends.

Will you put down your phone, and look?

If you believe you may have information about a  trafficking situation:

Call the National Human Trafficking Hotline toll-free hotline at 1-888-373-7888: Anti-Trafficking Hotline Advocates are available 24/7 to take reports of potential human trafficking. 

Text the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 233733.

Chat the National Human Trafficking Hotline via www.humantraffickinghotline.org/chat

#TikTok #OnlineSafety #everyONEmatters #Influencer #SocialMedia #Instagram