Many people have viewed this shocking viral video that shows the shocking truth about how easy online predators can meet young girls. The creator of this social experiment then shortly released a second video focusing on how prone boys can be to online influence as well. Although I am not quite sure if I agree with parents scaring their children to this extreme to “teach them a lesson,” however, parents can use this video to become more aware of the dangerous side of the internet in order to teach their children online safety. Although both videos captured young teenagers, it’s important to remember that children of all ages can easily preyed to meet strangers they have “met” online.
Now imagine if the scenarios in the videos were not scripted, and these children approached actual kidnappers. Well, unfortunately there have been cases recently about children being abducted by individuals they have met on the internet. For example, in 2014 a 12 year old Baltimore girl was abducted on her way to school by a man she had been communicating with on Xbox live as well as Kik Messenger. It took the FBI four days to find the kidnapped girl as she was being held captive in North Carolina. During this time, she was raped two times from her 32 year old kidnapper. Although she is back with her family safely now, they will have to live with this traumatic event for the rest of their lives. A traumatic event that could of been avoided if internet safety was employed in the house.
Like many of the parents in the viral video, many may think “my child would never do that” or “my child knows better” but parents, reflect on this question for a bit … do you really know what your children are doing on the internet? Sure, they can tell you they are doing their homework or playing a game online, but if they are secluded in their room they are exposed to endless possibilities on the internet that may lead them into unsafe situations.
1) Kik Messenger was one of the apps the Baltimore girl used in order to communicate with her future kidnapper. Although this app is intended for users 17 and over, the majority of the users are 11-15 years old. Many parents are simply not aware that this app exists, which draws children in creating an account. Children are moving away from Facebook simply because of the increased chance their parent or caregiver will see what they are doing. This app also allows users to create usernames, rather then using their real names – this makes it harder for parents to monitor their child if they are not aware of their username. In my opinion, I would not allow this application with children under 17 years of age because of the faulty security settings. But, sometimes if parents keep denying access children are known to rebel. An alternative to forbidding this application is continuing to educate children on the dangers of communicating with strangers as well as setting boundaries – such as no explicit messages.
2) Snapchat is a popular app amongst children and even adults. Personally, I am an avid user of this app as it allows me to send silly “snaps” to my friends. However, snapchat like any of other social media platform can pose danger. Fortunately, the users of Snapchat have recognized this risk and have created options parents can use in order to avoid unsafe situations. For example, parents can configure their child’s snapchat account to only allow messages from their friends to come through; this avoids random predators messaging your children. However, one aspect of snapchat, parents can not change is the ability for the receiver of the screenshot the snap. With that being said, educate your child that the picture they send may not always disappear after five seconds; the receiver holds the true power.
3) Although I do not totally disagree with the two applications I mentioned above, two websites that must be blocked from the child’s computer/tablet is Chatroulette and Omegle. These websites allow individuals to have conversations with complete strangers over text as well as through webcam. There is no need for children to access these sites as the individual they chat with is selected at random, which means there is no way of communicating with friends. Children are put at risk of viewing inappropriate material as well as talking to predators online. These websites make it too easy for grown adults to attract children as there is no parental controls. Also, if they do not talk over webcam it makes it easy to lie about any aspect of them including, their name, gender, and age.
Although there are dangers while being online, and many parents are starting to grow worrisome about their children being on their internet. In my opinion, danger can be anywhere from walking outside or being behind the computer screen. We can not isolate children, but just like we teach children to talk talk to children on their way to school, we can teach them how to be safe on the internet.
Here are my suggestions…
- Open communication is key, because many children may not feel comfortable discussing any unsafe situations they have encountered online because of the fear of their devices being taken away indefinitely. Frank Gallagher, the executive director of Cable in the Classroom believes that there should always be an ongoing conversation about technology in the household (Raub, 2016). It is important for parents to show children that they understand the important role technology has on their lives, rather then portraying a negative view about technology. Having an open line of communication about technology will ease children’s anxiety about coming for help if they do make a mistake online (Raub, 2016). If you do find out that your child has communicated with a stranger online, remember not to “freak out” on your child. Although it is important that you find out the extremity of the conversation, in order to protect your child’s safety; use this as a learning opportunity because there will be less chances of it occurring in the future.
- Have a family computer in an open space, this ensures that parents can monitor which sites their child is visiting. Now, in an open space I do not mean, watching over your child’s shoulder, but if they are solely able to use the computer in an open space they are less likely to engage in dangerous situations. Also, use the computer as a family device – a fun activity to do as a family is watch funny Youtube videos together! To tie into this limit, it is also important to set limits of computer time, such as what times your child can access the internet. If you refer back to my first blog post discussing a family tech agreement I offer many tips that families can use in order to create a positive technology experience.
- Use Parental Blockers. Although I mentioned above that children should be on the internet in an open family space, it is also important to have a balance of privacy. As children grow older, and show responsibility on the internet, many parents allow internet use in private settings such as their bedrooms. However, it is important to not become oblivious at this point. Using blockers is an effective measure that ensures children are not accessing inappropriate sites. K9 Web Protection is just one service parents can use to block unwanted sites. But in order to block inappropriate sites, parents must educate themselves on the dangerous sites that exist.
However, the most important tip I can give is to EDUCATE your children on online safety! Sure it helps to take preventative measures, such as blocking websites, but lets face it if kids are determined they will find a way. However, this is less likely to occur if children are well aware of the dangers they can potentially be putting themselves in.
The Guardian provides parents with many tips on what to say to children in order to educate them on online safety, such as…
- “If you won’t do it face to face, don’t do it online” – Ask your children if they would go talk to a stranger they see on the street. Without a doubt, all children would say no because they have been taught ever since they could talk not to interact with strangers. Now, have your children reflect on this: if they won’t talk to a stranger on the street, what is the difference online? Sure, they are not physically with the person at the moment, and it may seem harmless, but remember online is still the real world and dangerous events can still happen.
- “Once you’ve sent it, it’s online forever” – Although you can delete text messages or posts, it remains on the internet forever. With that being said, do not share information online you would not share with your close friends and family. If you say or do anything inappropriate on the internet, it can come back to haunt you even in many years to follow.
- Don’t let your children be naive to the dangers online. Children are innocent, they are not aware of the predators online unless they are educated. Now, we do not want to scare our children, but we want to provide them with enough information that allows them to make the right choice. There are many kid friendly resources available in order to teach children the importance of online safety. For example, this video is directed to children and teaches them the basics of online safety with regards to predators.
Lets face it, the internet is forever. Therefore, it is imperative that each generation is continuously informed about online safety!