I’d always joke that I wouldn’t let my kids alone on the Internet till they were 15. After the last few year and especially the last few months, that’s turned into more than a joke; it’s a promise to myself that my children won’t be unknowingly putting themselves at the same risk as thousands of others around the world.
It’s just the Internet. What can happen if they’re safe in their own home? Surprisingly, a lot more than you can imagine. These days, it’s very easy to track down or even ask for details point blank that will make a person surprisingly easy to find in the real world. Many apps and websites have built in location data, meaning that anonymity and privacy are an alternative, not a default.
Being groomed online from the age of 15 by another “teen” who turned out to be 63 probably didn’t help, compounded by my knowledge of where many innocently shared photos go. I’ve seen more than enough Facebook pages of girls as young as 10 in bikinis too (which Facebook refuses to shut down despite multiple reports). Till a few months ago I would have considered education enough; but now I feel that the mindset of kids under a certain age puts them at higher risk with or without education.
My recent experiences since becoming a regular Twitter and Periscope user have left me shocked. I’ve had conversations with half a dozen different 12-13 year olds looking to ‘chat because they’re bored.’ That doesn’t include all the kids (some as young as 10) who I’ve seen on Periscope, the new livestreaming video app.
What do young kids do online?
They try and make friends or gain followers, because that’s what they think the online world is all about. They try and find new and exciting things to do, things they haven’t seen or tried before. Once, all these things would have happened in a limited scope and their mistakes and risks kept local; these days, what they do online can put them in danger from anywhere in the world.
What will they do in their search for interesting new people and places?
From what I’ve seen, almost anything. They’re willing to trust recommendations from a person they’ve chatted with for a short time online, as long as they feel connected in some way to that person, whether by age, gender or location. They offer anything from “Ask Me Anything” question and answer sessions right down to flirting with strangers who ask them semi-jokingly to strip. They push the boundaries as most teenagers do, with only a murky idea of how close to the line they can get without putting themselves in a truly dangerous situation. They don’t realise that most of what they’re doing online can be seen, shared or viewed by anyone in the world.
Can’t education and oversight from parents help?
Kids under a certain age don’t have the life experience or knowledge to know when they’re being lied to or even when they’re the victim of gaslighting – especially when it involves online contact instead of face-to-face meeting. Parents, on the other hand, have no idea how most of the online world works, so they wrongly believe that the Internet has strong privacy settings in place.
Did you know:
- Twitter is set to allow any other user in the world to interact with or follow your account.
- Facebook usually sets to the default “public” (with a world symbol) and things such as age, location, places ‘checked in’ to and personal photos often end up being public, whether or not the profile owner realises it.
- Most kids know how to get around school firewalls and locks to access any emails or social media they want to. This information is often shared student to student.
- Most of the signs that most kids and parents believe identify an Internet predator are actually not true.
Still not convinced? This video is well worth a watch!