“Danger Will Robinson!” Protecting Kids on Social Web Sites
February 13th, 2006Posted by: Theo Nicolakis
Growing up, I was an avid fan of the television series, “Lost in Space”. On the show, the adolescent Will Robinson was often accompanied by a mechanical guardian named, “Robot”. Robot had the unique ability to sense danger and exclaim the classic phrase, “Danger Will Robinson, danger!”
As powerful as computers are today, they cannot and do not act as online guardians as Robot did for Will Robinson. Unfortunately, some parents have the misperception that they do. Though most adults view computers and the Internet as the medium for our youth, the simple fact is that parents cannot leave our youth unattended online. There has been quite a bit of attention recently in the media involving a series of incidents involving a web site called myspace.com. The common theme of most of these incidents that have hit national news is predatorial attacks on teens…and the potential exists for these stories to hit children and teens in our very parishes.
I recently received a call from a deeply concerned parish priest. A parishioner informed him that a number of his GOYA members had created profiles on a web site called myspace.com. The priest showed me some of the web pages he found that his GOYA members created. They ranged from the innocent to the obscene to the lewd. There were four especially chilling trends:
- 1) In a large number of cases, it was children between the ages of 11-14 who were posting material and lying about their ages
- 2) The information they were posting listed home addresses and phone numbers, cell phones, private emails and other items that were very personal in nature.
- 3) Even though children have supposedly “grown up” with computers, they are tremendously ignorant about how to protect themselves online.
- 4) That combination of age and personal information made those youth prime targets for online predators.
So what are clergy and parents to do? Here are some suggestions and resources:
- KEEP THE COMPUTER IN A PUBLIC SPACE: Computers in a family room or other public space are ideal so parents can see what is happening online.
- BE ALERT: Kids receiving strange phone calls, gifts, letters, or other things that are out of the ordinary should be investigated
- MONITOR CHAT: Keep kids out of chat rooms or monitor their chats
- REVIEW ACTIVITY: See what your kids are doing online, what sites they are visiting, what photos they are posting, and what web sites they are creating. Parents should also review the files that are on the computer.
- PROMOTE SAFETY: Let kids know that they should not post or give out personal information such as phone numbers, addresses, etc. online.
- DISCUSS: Encourage kids to talk about their favorite web sites, what is happening online, and any people they meet online.
- SET LIMITS: Consider restricting computer use for specific purposes such as school work. Children especially should not spend excessive amounts of time online–especially late at night.
- BECOME EDUCATED: Kids have special language they use in chat rooms, instant messaging, and message boards. For example, did you know that POS is a signal to another teen for “parents over shoulder”? teenangels.org has a translator to get parents up to speed.
- SET GUIDELINES: A number of web sites such as: www.wiredsafety.org, getnetwise.org, SafeTeens.com, and the FBI’s Parents’ Guide offer fantastic guides for clergy and parents and should be circulated among parents in a church community. The getnetwise.org site also contains safety tips by age group.
- GET INVOLVED: Clergy and parents must be involved in what their kids are doing. Technology is not self-monitoring and is not a substitute for parenting or mentoring.
- IF ALL ELSE FAILS… If you are concerned about your child’s safety, call the police.
By God’s grace, the priest and parents mentioned above were able to address this issue with the GOYA members before any serious incident took place. That incident and the others that have hit the national news raises serious red flags for clergy and parents to become actively involved in our children’s online activities before a serious situation arises.