Like it or not, Social media is hear to stay. While you may not have grown up wired to the internet, checking Facebook and Twitter every few minutes, chances are that your children do.
Like every tool, social media and an online presence can be beneficial and positive; it can also be dangerous and hazardous.
Understanding and awareness of the dangers are essential in protecting against these dangers both for ourselves as well as for our children.
The next few posts will explore how to identify and protect against online dangers.
While it is still necessary to teach your children about “Danger Dan”, “Don’t talk to strangers” or people in vans offering candy, in order to protect them, it is not enough by far. The fact of the matter is that the greatest danger your children face is no longer from people prowling around your neighborhood and hanging out by the schoolyard, it’s from online predators.
For the predator the internet allows him to vastly expand his range (for the sake of simplicity we will identify the predator as male but the truth is that the predator may be either male or female. Additionally, a male can easily parade as a woman or a child of any age or sex when operating online). He is no longer limited to a specific neighborhood or geographical area and online predators usually have no compunction about traveling, even long distances, in order to prey on a child he has met online. Also at risk are lonely and isolated adults, who are more willing to take a little risk in order to meet someone.
How they make contact:
Facebook, chat rooms, online forums, email, instant messaging, texting are all ways the predator will use in order to make contact with a child or with a vulnerable adult.
Maybe children (and lonely adults) feel isolated, misunderstood and as if what they care about doesn’t matter to anyone. An online predator will befriend your child, listen to them and make them feel as if they’ve found a kindred spirit; someone who cares for and about them. They will track your child’s activities and learn when they are most likely to find them online. Pretty soon your child starts to feel as if their online friend is the only friend they have. Before long they’ve agreed to meet somewhere without telling anyone.
Preteens are usually the most vulnerable. On the one hand their sexuality is beginning to bud and on the other hand they are beginning to try to find an identity that is independent of their parents. This is something that a predator plays on, making the child feel as if their meeting is romantic and all part of becoming independent and making their own decisions.
Many parents mistakenly assume that they know everywhere that their children are accessing the internet without realizing that they might easily be going online at a friends house. Increasingly children have online access through laptops and/or cell phones.
What to do to protect against online predators:
- Talk to your children! Explain the dangers. Don’t assume that they are too young to understand. You don’t want to give them nightmares or frighten them to death but you do want them to get an accurate picture of the dangers.
- Put computers in a public area and make sure that browsing history is accessible (It won’t take them long to figure out how to erase the traces of their online activities).
- Teach your children that if they are going to go into chat rooms, they need to stay in the public chat area and never enter a private chat, even if they believe they have much in common with one individual.
- Teach your children never to download images or respond to chat requests, emails or texts from anyone they don’t know.
- Monitor their list of friends on FaceBook and other social sites that they may frequent.
- Consider installing parental control software. http://kids.getnetwise.org/tools/ is a great place to compare and contrast software to make your decision.
Tomorrow we’ll have a look at “Online Identity Theft”