About a year and a half ago, my daughter set up an Instagram account unbeknownst to me. She knew I wouldn’t approve because I had already vetoed a Facebook account for her- but she had a phone. And she spends 50% of her time at her dad’s house. He also wasn’t aware that she set up this account. One afternoon, she approached me and asked me to “please don’t be mad, but there is this creepy guy following me on Instagram and making inappropriate comments and I don’t even know who he is!” I found that when she set this up, she didn’t realize there were privacy settings that needed to be activated to keep everyone and their brother from ‘following’ her. I could write 100 pages on stories like these I’ve heard from friends about their kids starting as early as they had access to a mobile device.
We all know what this is. And, as parents, we do a pretty good job teaching our kids not to get into the man’s car to see his puppy and not to be lured by a stranger asking directions. But, what we can’t forget about is the growing faction of predators and pedophiles who go where our kids go today- and that isn’t the neighborhood park.
Since every day is Throw Back Thursday on this blog, indulge me for a moment. I promise there is a point to this. When I was 10, 12, even 14, I couldn’t wait to hop on my bike (yes, it had a banana seat until I got a coveted ’10 speed’ when I turned 13) as soon as I woke up in the summer time and find my friends who were doing the same thing. We’d ride around, hang out at the school tennis courts or the park, and cruise up to the local ice cream shack to see who else was out. All day long. Drinking from hoses when we got thirsty. Asking parents if it was ‘ok to invite Susie to play inside’ if it was just too hot to be outside.
It’s what we did and where we ‘hung out’. Our parents taught us not to take candy from strangers or even talk to strangers. They did this because they needed to protect us from where the dangers were in our environment.
Nothing’s really changed with the parental instinct and need to protect our kids, but what we are protecting them from has changed dramatically. Where many of our kids go to ‘hang out’ now is online (Kik, SnapChat, Tumblr, Instagram, Twitter, Vine, Facebook, etc). And, you know what? They sure can cover a lot more ground electronically than I could on my bike at their age. Recall from my last post that today kids aged 12-15 have an average of 272 friends on social networks….but haven’t met an average of 78 of these friends in person.
Let’s talk about these 78 ‘friends’ and who they might be. Since the look and feel of our playground has changed, so have the dangers that lurk there. It’s easier to blend in and less risky than being seen on yesterday’s playground. There are lots of kids who feel pretty invincible, falsely safe or even openly insecure and looking for validation online. It is more important than ever in history to be engaged and in tune with who our children are interacting with and how they are interacting. And, for our little ones with the iPod touch, don’t think that just because they don’t have phone service that they can’t communicate and interact via apps like Kik. As parents, we need to be engaged, be present and savvy to the technology that is shaping our kiddos and their relationships with others.
Here is a link to some key statistics about online predators from InternetSafety101.org that you need to see http://www.internetsafety101.org/predatorstatistics.htm. This is a great site, and I encourage you to check it out for tips, resources and lots of helpful information.