Parents need to be parents but we also need to avoid buying into Internet safety myths. Teens may be more net-savvy than you think. Focus on real issues, pick your battles and encourage young people to be smart socializers.
by Larry Magid
Kids today live in an interactive "Web 2.0" world where they socialize,
post photographs and videos and share common experiences with friends,
friends of friends and, in some cases, strangers. Millions of kids are
doing it every day and the overwhelming majority of them seem to be
doing just fine. But that doesn't mean that the social Web is a
danger-free zone. There are things teens, parents, teachers and other
caregivers need to think about to ensure that online socializing
remains "smart socializing."
start by dispelling one popular myth. Your kids don't have all the
answers when it comes to the use of technology. They may know more
about how to operate a computer or a cell phone or put a page up on a
social networking site, but just because some adults are a bit
technologically challenged doesn't mean that they have no place
supervising kids' use of technology. Adults have one thing that teens
don't have – life experience – which for most translates into wisdom.
Adults know, for example, that things aren't always what they appear to
be. They know that while most people in this world are decent and
caring, there are a few who will take advantage of others and you can
find these people on the Internet just as you would in "the real world"
(though, for teens there is no distinction between the Internet and
"the real world." The Internet is a big part of their world).
there are other myths that we must also dispel. One is that Internet
predators typically deceive their victims by lying about their age or
their gender. While that is possible, it's usually not the case. Research
has shown that most adults who attempt to engage in a physical
relationship with a minor do not grossly exaggerate their age. In most
cases, the young person is aware that that person is an adult prior to
To be sure, there are predators who would harm
children. That's one reason that it's important for kids to be cautious
when communicating with people they don't know in person, especially if
the conversation starts to be about sex or physical details.
Fortunately most teens are pretty careful which is why there is a
fairly small number of cases of teens who are physically harmed by
these criminals. Still, one case is too many and if you hear about a
case of someone using the Internet to groom or lure a minor into a
sexual situation or if you find sexual images of children (child
pornography), call local authorities and report it at CyberTipLine.com.
If you don't get together with someone you meet online, they
can't physically harm you so your safest bet is to avoid meeting such
people in the real world. If a teen does get together with someone it
should be in a very public place and they should bring along a parent,
a group of friends or maybe the football team and cheerleading squad.
You never want to meet someone in person in a way that could make you
Another thing we know about threats to teens and
children is that they don't always come from adults and they're often
from someone they know. Kids can and sometimes do harm other kids.
Threats often come from peers kids know from school or other real world
situations. Whether it's unwanted sexual advances, harassment or what's
now called "cyber bullying," peer to peer threats are real and can be
If a teen or child is being bothered or harassed by anyone the
best advice is to not respond to that person and tell someone. That should
include a parent, guardian or teacher but, for teens, it can also
include trusted friends. Sometimes kids can handle the situation on
their own or in groups but at other times it requires adult
intervention and, in serious cases, maybe even the police. Not all harm
is physical. Cyber bullying can be emotionally devastating.
adults – whether parents, teachers, administrators or authorities, it's
important to listen and provide support to a child or teen who is
scared, worried or bothered by such contact but not to overreact or
"punish the victim" by taking away Internet privileges or forcing them
to avoid using social networking sites or other services. The fear of
an adult overreacting is one of the reasons many teens give for not
coming forward if they have a problem.
Parents also need to know that
taking away a teen's online privileges could backfire by prompting him
or her to go into stealth mode by finding hidden ways to get online. If
you take away a child's online profile for a service, he or she can
easily create another one or – worse – find a service that doesn't even
try to enforce basic safety rules. And if you ban teens from using a
computer or attempt to filter what they can access, the young person
can find another way to get online including friends' computers or a
cell phone. Modern phones have web browsers and some even have special
software for getting onto social networks.
Which all leads to
the fact that – regardless of what technology parents try to employ,
the best filter is the one that runs in the young person's brain – not
on a computer.
Cell phones can also be used to bully and
harass a young person. Text messages can sometimes be hurtful. And some
phones have global positioning systems and software that allow teens to
broadcast their location. Kids need to know how to use the privacy
features these services offer to be sure they aren't easily locatable
by people they don't trust.
Finally, Internet safety is a
two-way street. Kids should be good online citizens and not harm,
threaten or bully others for two reasons. First because it's wrong and
second because it can get them in trouble with authorities, parents and
even other kids.
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