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Talking to kids about online red flags can save their lives

Project PAVE said with so many apps to keep an eye on, it's critical for parents to give kids the tools to understand red flags in potential online interactions.

DENVER — It's something advocates worry parents leave out of "The Talk" - what healthy, safe relationships look like and the red flags to watch for.

Project PAVE works with kids in Denver to prevent violence and start conversations about healthy relationships.

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Their executive director, Adam Evans, said with so many apps to keep an eye on, it's critical for parents to give kids the tools to understand red flags in potential online interactions.

"It's a really hard question that people are dealing with because there are so many places that kids could be vulnerable," Evans said. "The reality is there is no way to watch out for all of the possibilities or all of the different places. One of the best things parents can do is to be in that dialogue with their kids."

Evans suggests starting those conversations early and being transparent.

 "Acknowledge there are scary things that happen and I want to make sure I'm doing my job as a parent to make sure that you're safe and supported," Evans said.  "What we really want to build for them are those things kids can say to themselves, like 'oh I know this is a safe situation,' or 'maybe there are weird things here and I know who to talk to.'"

Project PAVE engages in those conversations regularly with young people in Denver, discussing different kinds of relationships and what healthy connections look like. Evans said the young people his team serves tell them they don't get to have enough of those discussions.

"They don't really have a lot of safe places that they can say 'I can bring this up and be honest about what's going on with me or be honest about my questions,'" Evans said. "We're not just born with an intuitive sense of what something healthy looks like or what something safe looks like. We have to learn those and we're going to learn them somewhere." 

Evans said it's important for adults to trust their instincts when they notice something that feels off with a child in their life or a child in their community, as was the case with the construction worker who notified police in this most recent case out of Westminster. 

"A lot of us have responsibility - It's not just for a teacher in the room but others that are around. As grown ups, our job is to work through the discomfort."

Evans said red flags like increasing isolation or a child being defensive or closing up when asked about a new person in their life could be signals that the child is vulnerable.

Suppose you're not comfortable calling the police right away, or you're not sure how to handle a situation. In that case, he recommends resources like the National Child Abuse Hotline or Colorado's Safe2Tell tip line.

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