Will the bad guy in the audience please stand up?

As I’m enjoying the productivity of working from the lanai of my dear friend’s home in sunny Destin, FL this week, I’m focused on a speaking engagement I have next week and the content I wish to convey to this group of parents.  (I’m also focused on finishing up by 2:00 today so I can soak up some sun on the beach:).  I can’t help but reflect on how to incorporate some of my learnings from one of the best safety workshops I’ve had the opportunity to take.

A couple of weekends ago, both of my daughters and I had the opportunity to go through a workshop put on by former NCIS Special Agent, Heather Ryan.  She left the NCIS after 14 years to form a company called Safe in the City, where she trains young women (teens, college age, etc) about who predators really are, how they choose their targets and move in for the kill.  Pun fully intended.

I thought I was pretty well-educated about online safety, but I learned some new perspectives and facts that were incredibly valuable in that workshop, a few of which I’m sharing here.

The real size of your child’s audience online.

So you have friends.  And followers.  And, it’s no secret that a tween’s/teen’s feeling of popularity directly correlates with the number of friends, followers, likes, shares, and retweets he or she has.  I’ve often talked with parents about the fact that there is absolutely no reason for a tween or teen to have several hundred followers.  But kids collect followers like I’m about to collect sand particles on my feet. The more, the better.  The more followers, the more popular you are.  I get that it makes them feel empowered, liked, even important.  But, seriously, do YOU even know that many people? There is a real risk even beyond the number of followers your son or daughter has.  For example, unless that Twitter account is completely private (and only about 24% are according to http://www.pewinternet.org/2013/05/21/teens-social-media-and-privacy/), the audience is far larger that what you would imagine.  Your daughter’s public account has 800 followers?  No, she doesn’t.  She has over 300 million.  That’s how many active Twitter users there are today.

Trolling is so easy.

Let’s take that a step further.  Consider this. Of teen social media users

  • 91% post a photo of themselves
  • 71% post their school name
  • 71% post the city or town where they live
  • 53% post their email address
  • 20% post their cell phone number
  • 92% post their real name to the profile they use most often.2
  • 84% post their interests, such as movies, music, or books they like.
  • 24% post videos of themselves.

Wait, what?!

Do you realize how easy this makes it for someone to troll all of your child’s social media accounts and then befriend them?  And, since more followers are alway generally welcomed, what’s to stop creepy guy living in his mother’s basement from finding out WHAT your child likes and does, WHERE they live, go to school or routinely hang out, WHEN they are available, and HOW to gain access to them?

Do I need to even say this here?  Probably not, but I would be remiss if I didn’t.  If you follow your son or daughter on Twitter, Instagram, etc (you should if they have an account) and you see a post like this one:

All by myself again tonight.  So bored, I need someone to come hang out with me.

It’s time for a convo. You might think this is ridiculous- my child would never post something like this.  Don’t be naive.  You will find posts like this all over social media.  They are open invitations for the “bad guys.”  They are yin to the bad guys’ yang.  They are why there are so many more predators and pedophiles in existence online today than we will ever have the resources to track down.

Privacy is something never to treat casually.

Social media has woven itself into the fabric of the lives our our children, but we can’t let them forget that there are comments, photos, and entire conversations that are best kept private.  We don’t know the human behind every user id.  This is where it becomes incredibly important to have the conversations about the types of things that are productive to post on public social media versus the type of content best kept private- to be shared with only select groups of known friends and family.  It’s easy to understand that kids want and need to be social and share photos, comments, and conversations. But, not everything is meant to be posted on a public billboard.

It’s time to draw a line and make a distinction between the types of content that are ok to post for the world to see- forever- versus the types of content that should be kept to a distinct, selective audience.  The use of public social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) is a great way to differentiate yourself in a positive way for older kids as well as adults.  And, the use of private social media (Frienedy) is a great way to connect and share more more private, casual, silly, goofy, or special content with those select audiences who really care to see and interact with it.

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