When many parents today were once children themselves, the common mantra was, “Don’t talk to strangers.” It was a hard and fast rule that seemed easy enough to follow.
Yet today’s predators aren’t sticking their head out of the back of a van offering neighborhood kids candy. Instead, they have taken to the internet — a place that is more foreign to many parents than any physical place ever was.
There are literally hundreds of different chat apps or software available on just about anything that plugs in and connects to the World Wide Web. Whether it’s Snapchat, Whatsapp, or even “safe” areas like Facebook or even Twitter, access to our children is easier than ever. And it requires parental diligence to keep kids safe in such a complicated technological world.
According to the Center for Cyber Safety and Education, 40 percent of kids in fourth through eighth grade admit they’ve chatted with a stranger online. Of those kids, more than half shared their phone number, a third texted from their phone with that stranger, and 21 percent actually got on the phone with them.
Think that’s the worst? It’s not. Of those kids who chatted with a stranger online, 11 percent of them said they met a stranger in their own home, the stranger’s home, a park, mall or restaurant.
There are no words that can describe how scary that is.
Decades after dealing with an administrator accused of abusing students, SAR Academy faces another crisis, this time with a now-former associate principal who the FBI says enticed as many as 25 teenagers to send explicit photos of themselves, using little more than a smartphone or a computer.
There is little to nothing SAR could have done to prevent this, but there’s a lot parents can do. And it starts by knowing exactly what your kids are doing when you see them tapping on their iPhone, or activating the camera on their computer monitor.
The cyber safety center also recommends parents set ground rules at the very beginning, and educate children on the dangers they face online, even before they start accessing the internet.
Respect age restrictions on apps — they are there for a reason. Use parental controls on devices and even WiFi routers, and monitor what your kids are doing online.
And especially for older kids desperately looking to adulthood sooner than they should, explain that the internet is forever. Anything they produce and share is not private, because once they hit that send button, what happens next is completely out of their control.
A good rule of thumb is to only share what you might be OK with your parents or grandparents seeing. If it’s embarrassing for them to see it, imagine if the whole world saw it.