Kids, Computers and the Dangers of Social Networking

Posted: October 21, 2009 by April Watkins in Child Safety, Online security for kids, Protecting Our Children
Tags: , , , , , ,

While new technology and vast capabilities of information gathering and communication is still an awesome thing for most of us, to our children, it’s just life.  Kids today have grown up in a techno-savvy world with faster and faster Internet connections, jazzy new phones that have all sorts of capabilities, and social networking or meeting and chatting online.  Most of today’s “cool” tech applications function in real-time; meaning the conversation (whether email, texting, chatting, or social networking) is going on at that moment – much like a telephone call. 

Kids and computers in schoolOur schools have embraced new technology, as well, by using the Internet for research and learning tools for students.  Computer skills are even taught in kindergarten.  All of this is a wonderful advantage to the education of our children.  Through the creation of the Internet, they are able to see places where they might never be able to go, hear and communicate with others all around the world, go back in time to see the natural world at different stages, or go far into outer space to see worlds beyond our human view. 

I am very much in favor of computer technology for everyone, including our children.  However, we must all be aware that the computer is also an open conduit to a very dangerous world. 

My nieces and nephews love computers and spend hours playing games or looking at various sites.  We all watch them closely…but, you cannot be at their side 24/7.  This means we must talk to our kids and explain some hard but necessary life realities; such as people are not always honest, some people are looking to hurt you; some people might try to kidnap you.  The concept of explaining the harsh realities of life to young kids is heartbreaking as it takes away their precious innocence.

Lately, my nephews have been asking permission to go onto social networking Social Networking sites cloudsites such as Facebook.com or create their own web page on MySpace.com.  After all, “everyone else does,” they say.  To me this was a valid point:  if their friends are online, wouldn’t they enjoy chatting and sharing pictures too?  We have discussed real life many times and how dangerous the world can be, even in small towns or rural areas.  So, I decided to test them.  Read this and do some testing of your own…trust me you will be surprised at how trusting and innocent kids, including teens, can be. 

We established the main points that they knew:  don’t talk to strangers, don’t plan to meet with anyone you don’t know or don’t have permission to be with; don’t tell everyone your name and address; don’t ride in a car with strangers; etc. etc.  They could name all sorts of “do’s” and “don’ts”.  The boys told me that they would never talk to an adult online and would never divulge personal information.  They put up a solid argument for permission to “get on” these social networking sites. “Please let us get on Facebook,” they pled.  This is the conversation:

ME:  “If I allow you to go on Facebook, who will you chat with?”
BOYS:  “Only with our friends, no one else.” 
ME:  “Well, what if one of your friends has a cousin that he chats with and suggests that you meet him online?”
BOYS:  “Well, that’s okay because he’s a kid, right?”
ME:  “What if you get a message from someone’s parents?” 
BOYS:  “I would answer them and say ‘yes ma’am.”  (That made me laugh) 
ME:  “What if a kid asked to ‘be your friend’ [meaning allow them into your group of online chatters], and tells you that he is lonely and lives way out in the country in Alabama. What would you do?” 
BOYS:  “I would say, okay, I guess.” 
ME:  “Okay, the kid becomes your friend, you guys chat and exchange pictures, and he asks where you live?” 
BOYS:  “I’d tell him Tennessee.”
ME:  “He says his grandmother lives in Tennessee.  Where exactly do you live?”
BOYS:  “[city], Tennessee.” 
ME:  “He says, ‘WOW, my grandma lives there too!   What street are you on?”
BOYS:  “[street address]”. 
ME:  “Guys, the kid is NOT a kid, he is a 25 year old adult, who is obviously stalking children, and now he knows, what school you go to, how old you are, what you look like and EXACTLY where you live.” 

The boys were really stunned; after all, they had known this friend for a “long” time (for a kid) – a month or so.

cell phonesNeedless to say, we nixed the entire idea and they are not on a social networking site…that I know of…but can I really know?  They have cell phones and can text and access the Internet through those, as well.  Scary, isn’t it?

While this illustrates the thought processes of kids and tweens, it is important to note that teens may have a different view of the “stranger.”  As they push the envelope to discover the real world, rebellious teens may look to gain attention from a “sympathetic” or “cool” adult via the Internet.  Severe reaction without a guiding discussion from parents can often lead to rash behavior from their teen.

teen on computerTaking away computer privileges or cancelling a teen’s profile on a social networking site could push teens into a more secretive mode.  The upshot is that they will always find a way to access the Internet, either through a friend, the library or a cell phone.  So bottom line – you must talk with your kids, know your kids, know their friends, and be sure that they realize the dangers of an anonymous “friend.”

Here are some research statistics from Microsoft, McAfee, and MSN

  • More than 50% of teens use the Internet with no supervision;
  • Almost 30% of younger kids surf with no supervision.
  • 25% of all kids age 5-7 have a computer in their rooms.
  • 1/3 of the kids online have been “cyber-bullied,” with some bullying spilling over into schools and buses.
  • 1/2 of all parents do not use parental controls that are already on their computer systems.
  • 4 of 5 parents fail to turn on the safety applications that they have added to their computer systems, as it slows down computer speed.
  • Almost 2/3 of parents have not seriously discussed online security with their kids.
  • And almost ½ of all parents did not know that their kids had online profiles on social networks or web sites. 

PC World’s Rick Broida suggests the following safety tips: 

  1. Replace Google with Quintura, a kid-friendly search engine that produces G-rated results. 
  2. Use KIDO’Z, a special browser that filters inappropriate content, great for ages 3-9. 
  3. Another kid-safe browser option is KidZui.  
  4. The best solution for parents seeking online protection for kids and teens is OpenDNS; which reroutes your Internet access through their servers then filters out inappropriate and malicious sites before they come into your home.  And, it’s FREE!

For more online safety tips visit: ConnectSafely.org and SafeKids.com

Surprized kid on computerWhile you want to allow kids to explore the world, at the same time, you must protect them from those who might exploit them.  It is up to us – parents, grandparents, and families – to be proactive in learning about new technology and how it might have a dangerous aspect for our children. 

Take some time to talk with your kids about the Internet and other new “cool” technology devices.  Let them teach you how to use new gadgets; it will validate their opinions and make them feel part of the conversation. 

Most important, take this opportunity to better prepare your child to be cautiousTeen w mom when divulging information to anyone.  Our kids are our most precious asset.  And that is…Why It Matters.

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Comments
  1. You precisely saved me atleast 1 hour of time. I am making a project in this particular topic and your contribute has helped me through one of the topics of my project. I will browse to the other pages now.

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