Did you see this social media experiment by Coby Persin where he pretends to be a 15 year-old boy? He approached a handful of 12-14 year-old girls online and invited them to meet in person. In each situation the parents were in on the act and all of them were convinced that their daughter’s wouldn’t accept the invitation, but each girl did – meeting him at a park, inviting him to their house, and getting into his van.
This video was instantaneously popular when it came and it’s had millions of hits, but I waited until now to talk about it, because this isn’t a one-and-done topic. This is a conversation parents need to be having with their kids on an ongoing basis about talking to people online and crossing the line from online interaction to meeting in the real world.
I have always recommended that parents be on the same social media platforms as their kids so they can monitor what they’re children are doing online. Parents should also know the passwords for their kids’ phones so they can check their text messages and photos. (And I’m an advocate of teens having some privacy, but it shouldn’t be a free-for-all.) After seeing this video, I have a few more suggestions for parents to protect their kids online.
1. Be Aware of Who your Kids are Talking to Online.
Just like you have at least a passing familiarity about who your kid knows at school and in their extracurricular activities, you should talk with your kids about who they talk to online and via text messages. Know who is an influence in their lives. If they mention someone new or become more secretive, that should give you a reason to probe deeper into what’s going on. It could be standard teenage rebellion, but it could be a reason for concern.
2. Remind your Kids: “Don’t Befriend Strangers Online.”
I have a personal rule – if you’re not my friend in real life, you don’t get to be my “friend” on Facebook. Anyone can message me (because I use social media professionally) but that’s where I draw the line. I recommend the same rule for kids. The fact that someone looks pretty or appears to be a friend of a friend is not a good enough reason to have an ongoing connection. They may have a conversation because they’re fans of the same thing or in a Facebook group, but that shouldn’t be enough to allow that person more than surface access to you.
3. Teach your Kids: “People Present an Altered Self Online.”
I believe that most people are good and have good intentions; however, when it comes to the internet, everybody lies. Some people present their best self while others blatantly present a false self. Think of everyone online as a persona more than a person – at best you’re only seeing one side of them. Just like you shouldn’t compare your body to airbrushed fashion models, don’t compare yourself to someone’s posts online.
Keep the conversation about online safety going. Show your kids Coby Persin’s video and TV programs like To Catch a Predator and talk about the fact that not everyone is what they appear to be in real life compared to what they say online. Every teenager should read and own The Gift of Fear by security expert Gavin de Becker before they get their driver’s license. (I am not a paid spokesperson for Gavin de Becker. I’m just a fan of his work.)