Tips For Dealing With Stranger Danger 2.0

    June 19, 2006
    WebProNews Staff

When I was a kid cautionary tales usually involved crossing the street, stranger danger, and scissors. Modern parents are adding anecdotes about MySpace and other social networking sites where strangers transform from shadowy abstract figures in far away communities to hoards of perverts lurking about your living room.

The National Crime Prevention Center (NCPC) uses the recent exodus of a teenage MySpace member to the West Bank, where she had planned to rendezvous with a man she’d met on the site, as a talking point to underscore the importance of parental oversight the Web 2.0 era.

“The popularity of social networking sites makes kids vulnerable in new ways and leave parents wondering what they can do to protect their children,” says Michelle Boykins, Director of Communications at NCPC. “Parents tend to watch their young kids closely but relax restrictions as kids get older. But parents need to know the Internet dangers do not stop when their kids turn 13.”

A 2002 study by the Girl Scout Research Institute found that kids are underreporting disturbing interactions online. The study found that 30 percent of girls polls had been sexually harassed in a chat room, but only 7 percent had told their parents.

Another study, conducted more recently by the University of Maryland, found that female chat room members using feminine usernames received 25 times more threatening or explicit private messages. Female user names received 163 malicious private messages per day on average, compared to just four messages per male username.

It is safe to say that is more unsafe for underage girls than for boys, though predators seek out boys as well, and parents may be very unaware of what goes on in their child’s online world. The NCPC issued advice for both parents and teens to help keep kids out of harm’s way on social networking sites.

Advice for Parents:

Parents need to know what their children are doing online. Learn about the most popular websites for young people and visit the sites to know what your kids are saying or doing online.

Set guidelines for Internet usage including what teens can and cannot post online. Sign it as a contract to underscore the importance.

Make sure teens know to never give out personal information online, not even their full name or age.

Emphasize to teens that though not all people they meet online are bad, some are looking to prey on others.

Know your child’s whereabouts at all times. Teach your child to never meet up with anyone they have met online without your express permission whether your kid is 7 or 17.

Talk to your children about what they find and learn online. Make sure they know they can talk to you or another adult if anything they see or experience online makes them feel uncomfortable, without penalty or criticism.

Advice for Teens:

If you receive an invitation from someone online, tell the person you have to ask for your parents’ permission before meeting with them.

Insist the person meet your parents before you go out with them. The person shouldn’t refuse if they have good intentions.

Never agree to lie to your parents or hide from them what you do online.

Understand the potential danger of meeting with a stranger. Ask yourself if you can get out of a dangerous situation if the person has less than honorable intentions.

Be aware of “smooth talkers”. Many online predators know how to get you to trust them.

Do not post personal information online. Predators can locate you by the information you share.

Before you post information, ask yourself if you would be comfortable with your parents or teacher reading it.

Parents should also be aware of so-called “dark sites,” or secret personalized pages set up by teens in addition to a public profile page that parents know about and monitor. Kids who’ve had their profiles closely monitored, policed, restricted, or banned by their parents often set up dark sites where they engage in much riskier behavior like giving out personally identifiable information.