As we make way into this second decade of the 21st century, parents must accept the fact that our human lives have become immersed in technology and the Internet. That goes double for our kids. But just because everyone is using it, does not mean it’s completely safe. In fact, it is just he opposite. Just as in the real world, there are people in cyberspace that aim to harm others.
One of the most talked-about dangers lurking online is Internet predators, and let me state this: they are real!
I read multiple stories every week about Internet predators being busted in sting operations. Time and time again, law enforcement reiterates this message: ‘you must protect your children from online predators. These guys do exist!’ They aren’t kidding. They are making a statement and giving advice based on what they see every day at their job.
What parents should be afraid of is not so much the predators who are out there in droves, but the fact that more often than not the meetings between kids and predators are consensual. Kids are falling into grooming traps and are saying yes on their own accord.
The reason? Teenagers are programmed to take risks. Some experts say at-risk kids are more likely to be at risk when online. But isn’t every child at risk of making an ill decision? Unfortunately for parents, one of the biggest risks they take is talking to strangers online.
For some reason, in the Internet age and this time of unlimited mass-communication, where children can literally communicate with the entire world, parents are afraid to ask their kids whom they are talking to online. They are afraid to check up on their kids and verify who they are making friends with in the globally-spanning digital community. This is the equivalent of leaving your child alone in New York City at 2 a.m.
While I agree a change in Internet safety education needs to come about, a quick pep talk with your kids on the topic will never do the trick. You can be certain your child will not consciously push aside their curiosity and desire to explore, simply ‘because mom and dad said so.’ Did you when you were their age?
Filtering and blocking websites may be good for young kids, but sooner or later they will circumvent your roadblocks and disregard your warnings if you don’t stay with them and have that knowledge of what they are doing when they connect to the World Wide Web.
One tool to consider is computer-monitoring software. It gives parents of today’s digitally connected kids access to true knowledge of what their child does on the Internet. There is no hiding or covering up tracks; parents can see all. This includes those times when a child may be forming relationships with strangers online.
The duty of keeping your child safe is never to be trumped by some ‘inherent’ right they have to be left alone when on the Internet. Privacy should be given only when and where warranted and earned. For a young teen or ‘tween, the Internet is neither one of those.
There should never be a substitute for good parenting; but there should also never be a fear of using a tool that will help you be the best parent you can be. Knowledge is power. We need more powerful parents. Computer monitoring software is the best tool a digital parent can use to keep their kids protected and safe from Internet predators.
Ken Shallcross, Pandora Corporation Director of Media and Public Out Reach since 2007. pcpandora.com