We all heard it from our mothers: “Never talk to strangers.” Then the internet came out, and our mothers doubled down. If talking to strangers in person was risky, talking to strangers online was simply begging for disaster. We made pseudonyms and kept all identifying information off-line.
MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media profiles made the internet seem smaller. Safer. Most people use their real names online now, and convenience has led us to handle everything from homework to photo sharing to banking online. We give out our mailing addresses on eBay and Craigslist, and we assume the person on the other side of the screen is more or less like us. And most of the time, we’re right.
Our kids are getting a little too comfortable talking to strangers online. While we as adults have been around the block a few times, they don’t notice the red flags. This dad described on his blog how his daughter became a target for a human trafficking ring through making friends online. Police are deeply concerned about SnapMaps, a SnapChat feature that broadcasts users’ location for any of their online friends to see.
The person on the other side of the screen may be a normal teen or tween, just like your kids. But the person on the other side of the screen could be anyone. Profile pics can be stolen, birthdays can be falsified– online, anyone can make a new identity. Teens just don’t have the life experience to pick out the predators.
Parents, monitor your kids’ friends list. Ask questions. Know who your kids talk to online. Have a family rule– don’t talk to strangers online. Enforce it. The principle of “Trust, but verify” will serve you well here!
The internet may feel smaller, but the predators are still there. And, as the lines blur between online and offline, it’s far too easy to forget the dangers.
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