Why don't we teach our kids to have the same caution with online strangers that they do in person?
Lori Getz: "Stranger, stranger, 911! Stranger, stranger, 911!" 8-year-old Ella shouted, got down on her bottom, and began kicking her legs as she demonstrated her knowledge of what to do if a stranger ever approaches her. Her parents had dedicated much time to discussing stranger awareness and personal safety with Ella so she would be prepared in the case of a stranger approaching her on the street.
After watching her impressive demonstration of how to handle strangers, I asked her about strangers online. She looked at me, quite puzzled. "What do you mean? I only play kid games, so I'm only talking to other kids. I would never go into a grown-up chat room and tell strangers where I live or how old I am. That wouldn't be safe!"
Ella is a big "gamer." She spends countless hours on DSi and X-box live, and used to play Club Penguin, "when I was younger ...," said the 8-year-old.
While I have no problem with any of these games, it's important that parents understand all of these games have a component where players can chat with other players. And while all of these games are meant for kids, predators who are interested in meeting children are going to go where the kids go. Strangers are strangers, and even if they are only saying hi or playing a game, we are teaching our kids that the rules are different online than in the physical world! Your child doesn't know if that cute little penguin is an 8-year-old girl or a 50-year-old pedophile. Your opponent on DSi could be a registered sex offender in your area (you have to be within 65 feet of the user in order to use the chat component).
We are sending our children mixed messages about stranger awareness. It's not okay to talk to an adult stranger in the park, but it is okay to talk to a completely anonymous individual that may be an Internet predator?
With young children, I explain that there are adults in this world that do not know how to have relationships with other adults, so they'd rather have them with children. My young audience will usually crinkle their faces and tell me, "That's gross!"
Our kids don't realize that they are playing a dangerous game when they "friend" total strangers. These predators are tricky. They find ways to connect with your kids, telling your children they like the same things, go to the same places, and obviously play the same games. The predators always point out how much they have in common. The process is called "grooming." Although your child may feel safe in the comfort of their own home, they are potentially letting a predator into their lives.
Help your children find a group of friends they know from the physical world and set up a time for them to play together (not too long, there's homework and chores to be done). We need to teach our children that it is not impolite to ignore strangers online or choose NOT to play with them. It's SAFE!
|Lori Getz is the founder of Cyber Education Consultants and speaks to students, parents and educators about Internet safety, security and ethics. She has a Master of Arts in Educational Technology from San Diego State University and is certified by isafe.org as an Internet Safety Specialist. Her mission is to help bridge the gap between a young generation of digital natives and their parents and teachers. She is the mother of one and lives in Los Angeles with her husband.|