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Don't Let the Internet Highjack Your Kids

Sep 8, 2008
Would you consider letting your 13 or 14-year old daughter go to an unsupervised costume party to hang out with strangers? I'm talking about people you've never met, people of any age, people who are all wearing costumes, people who can pretend to be someone they aren't?

Would you allow her to pretend that she is 16 years old while the others pretend to be her age?

Now if this is ok with you, would you like her to exchange with these strangers her personal likes, dislikes, fantasies, friends, family experiences, and personal information about where she goes to school?

Most responsible parents would cringe at the thought of allowing something like this. It raises all kinds of red flags about safety. What's to keep these costumed people from being predators using the party to prey upon innocent kids?

I've just described what can happen when kids use MySpace and other social networking sites.

It is estimated that there are over 750,000 adults cruising these sites every day looking for vulnerable kids. When they find one who has self-esteem problems or strong needs for approval or a sense of belonging they start asking innocent questions such as, "Do you like this band? Can I help you with your homework?" Before long the questions turn to, "Do you want to go private?" Then they set out to meet this kids.

In a recent sting operation, agents were able to trace a child whose profile only gave information about her name, school, and the name of her soccer team. It only took the team 30 minutes to know where to find her. She thought she was being safe.

Consider the following conversations:

14-year olds, Sandy and Amy visit at school:

Sandy: "You should have been there this morning. My folks are like so out of it. They are like so clueless! My old man is like so paranoid about the internet. This morning all he could talk about is like how dangerous it is and how some creeps are out there just looking to like take advantage of kids and stuff."

Amy: "Right. Like what do they know? Nobody can hurt you when they don't even know where you live."

Sandy: "Right. Like he's like so wrong. Sure, I know that weird stuff happens. But the guys I chat with are so cool. This one guy is so great. He wanted to see what I look like. He thinks I'm 16, so I got this really sexy picture Mike took of Sara when she was so smashed at our party, and I put her picture on my profile. Man, if my parents could see that they would freak!"

But he's not ever going to see that it's not me cause he's like more interested in basketball like I am. He doesn't even know where I live.

Last night after he saw the picture on my profile, he didn't like try to get me to meet him. We just talked about what team I play on and what school I go to. If he was a pervert, he'd be like asking where I live and stuff like that. He'd be like wanting me to meet him in some motel or something. All he wants is for us to go private do we can have more time to like chat and stuff.

But, you got to hear how clueless my dad is. This morning he asked me if I had a profile on MySpace. I told him like sure, all kids do it. It's no big deal. And then he goes, like he wants to see my profile, and I almost freaked cause there's a lot of stuff on there that mom and him can't like handle cause they're like so last century. But he said he didn't have time so he'd like look at it tomorrow night. That is so cool cause it gives me time to clean it up. Parents are so clueless!"

Mom and Dad on the previous evening:

Dad: "I'm really becoming concerned about the number of bad things I'm hearing about the internet and how many predators are online each day cruising these chat rooms looking for kids who are vulnerable."

Mom: "The last thing I heard was that there are over 750,000 predators out there mining kids' web sites looking for kids who are vulnerable with low self-esteem, family problems, and strong needs to feel a sense of belonging."

Dad: "It's time we found out what Sandy is doing on the Internet. As much as I hate being nosy, we've got a responsibility to protect her. She's so na´ve that she could easily become a victim. I'm going to ask if she's on MySpace. She's going to have to show me, or I'm taking away the computer. After I do that we're going to do what the FBI advises. We're going to put that thing in a public place with the screen facing the door."

Mom: "I've got a sneaking suspicion that she's already on that site. Based on what I've been hearing about how the kids talk on those chat sites, she's probably going to be embarrassed and afraid to show us.

I've got an idea. Why don't you tell here that you're going to look at it, but that you don't have time right now? Tell her that you'll look at it later. It will give her time to clean it up and avoid a big fight. That way it will be easier to deal with the situation."

Dad: "I like it. Then shell believe that we're totally clueless. That always makes her happy."

Mom and Dad are wise to be concerned about Sandy's use of interned social networking sites. The FBI says that the internet is the single most important tool of child predators.

The authors of Love and Logic are also concerned about the amount of time kids are spending alone at their computer networking. Kids can meet their needs to feel accepted, needed, or build confidence in much more long lasting ways.

Kids who concern themselves with what they can for others gain more self-satisfaction. Strongly consider teaming with your teen once a week to volunteer at the hospital or retirement homes. You will be astonished at the changes in attitude this produces. Nothing heals the heart better than dong helping others does something they can't do for themselves.

We can expect Sandy to go ballistic when mom and dad put the breaks on her use of internet networking. Let's hope her parents don't give in. Many people have grown up to be healthy, productive adults without putting themselves on display for the world to view on the internet.

LOVE AND LOGIC BECOMES MORE AND MORE VALUABLE AS THE WORLD BECOMES MORE DANGEROUS

We don't know if Sandy will find some sneaky way to get around their new rules. However, we do know that teens can find a way. What we do know is that it is a much more dangerous world for kids than in the past. And the dangers are growing. It is almost impossible to protect kids from the proliferation of temptations.

KIDS CAN BE THEIR OWN BEST PROTECTORS

This underscores the importance of raising kids with Love and Logic. The safest kid is the one who understands that bad things can happen to good people when bad decisions are made. This is the youngster who learns that he/she will be held accountable for the choices made. This child who has developed that internal voice that keeps whispering, "I wonder how my next decision is going to affect me."

ADVICE FROM THE FBI

Monitor use of the Internet at all times. Discuss safeguards with children and explain the need for parental involvement in setting up restrictions for access.

Place the computer in a public place with the screen facing the door.

Don't post personal information on a profile or a friend's profile.

Ensure that children are not misrepresenting their age.

Read and exercise safety tips listed on a social network's site and report inappropriate behavior to the Web site.

Restrict children's profiles and groups on social networking sites to people they know. Do not allow access to people a child has met through the Internet. Most sites allow parents to block questionable people from contacting their children.

Report child pornography and other incidents of sexual exploitation of children to cybertipline dot com, which is run by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Complaints that may involve violation of federal law and referred to the FBI. Violations of state and local law are referred to the appropriate authorities.

Is Your Child on MySpace?

If you are interested in finding out if your child is using MySpace here are directions to help you check.

1. Go to www.myspace dot com.

2. Click on the "Sign Up" link that is located on the upper right of the screen.

3. You will then need to fill out the form that comes up.

4. When you finish filling out the information click on the orange "Sign Up" button located on the bottom of the form.

5. You will then be asked to upload a picture, but click the "Skip for now" link.

6. You will then be asked to till out another form but click the "Skip for now" link.

7. You are now ready to search for your child. Click the "search" button located at the top of the screen.

8. You will then be asked how you want to search for your child's profile.

9. There are 3 ways to search. "Find A Friend" (to search by your child's name), "Classmate Finder" (to search by the school your child goes to), and "Affiliation for Networking" (to search under a group your child may be a part of).

10. Fill out the form that you would like to search for your child under and click the "next" icon.

You will now be asked to refine your search. If your child is a male you may want to search for only males. If you want to you can also search for you child's age group. When you are done narrowing the search down, click on the "Update" button.
About the Author
Jim Fay, one of America's most sought-after presenters in the fields of parenting and school discipline, and Kristan Leatherman co-authored "Millionaire Babies or Bankrupt Brats?," the newest book from the Love and Logic Institute, Inc. To learn more about Jim Fay, Love and Logic, or Kristan Leatherman, visit Millionaire Babies.
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