Meeting Someone Online
The most serious problem imaginable is a child who turns up missing or is molested as a result of an online contact. Most of these cases are not strangers bursting into homes and stealing young kids; they are almost all young people who have left home on their own volition, usually after "meeting" someone online ("luring" is the term for online behavior that leads to these meetings). The vast majority of them are over 15 and female. What we have here isn't a case of bad guys snatching children; it's mainly teenagers exercising poor judgment. Nevertheless, luring is illegal, and if your child meets someone online whom you perceive to be a threat to her physical safety, contact law enforcement.
Options (not necessarily recommendations) for preventing your child from meeting someone online who might do harm:
- Parents should take an interest in a child's "e-pals" just as they do with friends that kids bring home.
- Talk with your child about the dangers of getting together with someone they "meet" online.
- Restrict or monitor your child's use of chat functions.
- Monitor your child's e-mail and use of Internet newsgroups.
- Install a filter that restricts your child from giving out his or her name, address, and phone number.
People sometimes get angry. It's normal, nothing to be ashamed of. The trouble with expressing anger on the Internet is that it's sometimes difficult to resolve disputes. For one thing, you don't have the normal clues you get when you're with someone in person. When people are communicating with text, or in writing, sarcasm and some humor can be insulting instead of funny. It's difficult to know the intensity of someone's feelings and it's very hard to resolve emotional disputes that occur online. More recently cyber bullying has become a disturbing trend online. Recent research has shown that cyber bullies are also at risk for other online threats.
The best defense is to avoid getting into online arguments or disagreements. That doesn't mean people shouldn't speak their minds in forums, newsgroups, and chat sessions, but it does mean that you should treat others with respect and try not to use words that could be offensive to others. If you are going to use humor or sarcasm, you can sometimes avoid misunderstandings by using emoticons (smileys) that express emotions: A simple ":-)" (for "grin") next to a statement can make all the difference between a hostile response and a collective laugh.
Ways to prevent kids from getting into online fights include:
- Discuss with kids how to deal with anger.
- Consider counseling, if kids have serious problems dealing with anger.
- Inform kids that it's not their fault if someone is rude, obnoxious, belligerent, or mean.
- Teach your kids not to respond to comments that are mean and provocative.
If I Read it Online, is it True?
Knowing how to search the Internet is one thing, however being able to understand what you find is something else.
It's easy to become overwhelmed with all the information on the Internet. Children need to learn the finer points of Internet searching and need to learn critical thinking skills so that they can analyze and make effective use of the material they do find. Parents need to provide guidance to their children to help them make sense of the material they uncover and distinguish between fact, opinion, rumors, and lies.
Ways to avoid being overwhelmed or getting "bad" information
- Learn how to use search engines and how to limit results of searches.
- Understand the difference between reliable and unreliable sources. Get to know the reliable sources on the Internet.
- Have kids cite all of their sources so that teachers and parents can help distinguish between reliable and unreliable sources.
Putting People in Jeopardy
It's not just your child's privacy and safety you need to be concerned about. There are cases where kids have posted information on the Net that puts others -- perhaps other family members -- in some type of jeopardy. Be sure your kids know that they are not to post private information about the family -- especially your address or phone number -- on the Internet.