I’ve been teaching Internet Safety for almost 10 years now.
In the beginning (when the dinosaurs roamed) the big issues came as a result of the unchecked activity on AOL chat rooms. Chat rooms have always been fertile ground for would-be child sex predators.
We send our children off to their bedrooms with wi-fi and a laptop, tablet, or phone and consider them safe. They’re in their jammies after all.
What could *possibly* go wrong with handing a pubescent (or younger) child with a device which enables them unrestricted access to a global community of strangers and constant requests for their personal information?
The level of sophistication of social media platforms, multimedia devices (tablets and laptops), gaming systems (XBox Live), and of course telephones make connecting to anyone and everyone as easy as pushing a button.
Your single and only chance to protect yourself and your children is to become educated. New apps and social media platforms spring up literally daily and we have to keep up.
Over the years I have taught large groups (a few hundred at a time), and I’ve been asked by families to come do a “house visit” and reason with a child showing the beginning of at-risk behavior. I can put everything I’ve observed into two separate buckets:
- Trust but verify
Please spare me the “I have a good kid” speech. I’m sure you do. Congratulations. You must be very proud. In the meantime, assume he’s guilty and cross-examine him like he knows where Jimmy Hoffa is buried. Because I can pretty much guarantee that given the right circumstances he is not beyond taking a picture of his junk and texting it. Seriously.
- Know the answer to your question before you ask it
Don’t ask your daughter if she’s using SnapChat. Snoop through her IPhone, confirm she’s using SnapChat, hack her stored images (you DO know they don’t disappear, right?), and THEN ask her if she’s using it. If her answer doesn’t perfectly match the intelligence you gathered, we have a problem. But to achieve this step you *must get educated*
Being one step ahead is the only shot we collectively have of coming out the other end of this mine field alive. Education is the only option – I know it’s time consuming and you might not be a techy person and (waaa waaa waaa) it’s just so hard, but it is what it is.
The train is coming whether we like it or not. You can get run over, let it roll past you, or hop on board. Oh, and by the way – your kids are on the train…but they didn’t notice you standing there because they were texting at the time.
Get on board people!
Jesse Weinberger is an Internet Safety Expert, speaker, and author of The Boogeyman Exists: And He’s In Your Child’s Back Pocket.
She has been teaching parents, schools, and students how to navigate online and mobile risks since 2003. Jesse is available for presentations to schools, parents, students, and organizations.