Originally published in The Clarion | June 08, 2011
Our world is constantly changing at a never-before experienced pace. Looking back only ten or twenty years ago, things just seemed slower and more calm. The introduction of the Internet and Web into seemingly all aspects of our lives has greatly contributed to our faster lifestyles, and I’m not so sure it is for the better. With all of the good that comes with having the world at our fingertips, so comes an equal if not more dose of the bad. With Internet technologies, criminals no longer have to walk outside their houses to prey on the innocent. Friendships are created online that never would have been possible without this new means of connectivity. Take a moment and consider the people you have connections with online. I don’t mean your neighbors, co-workers and family – the other folks. Sure you have lots in common with them, but do you honestly think you know them as a person?
The Web is becoming a major threat to children worldwide at such a rapid pace. When I was a kid, I’m sure my parents’ biggest fear was that the neighborhood bully might beat me up. My how times have changed. With only a few keystrokes and clicks of the mouse, kids today can get themselves in very bad places almost instantly. There are many groups and organizations whose goals are to protect children online, and I would like to think that their work is doing some good. Unfortunately, there is no technology, no software, no virtual wall that is going to keep kids out of bad places on the Web or criminals from finding the kids.
A recent Consumer Reports survey found that 7.5 million kids are using Facebook. This is 7.5 million breaches of Facebook’s 13-and-older registration policy. Is Facebook at fault? Not entirely. Another survey by the Liberty Mutual Responsibility Project found that parents are assisting their under-13 children in registering for and using Facebook. You may be asking yourself, is Facebook all that bad? Well, again, not necessarily. Any Web technology that could put a child in a virtual face-to-face situation with a stranger has a high potential for danger. As innocent as sitting behind a computer monitor may seem, bad ‘connections’ can turn into very bad situations very quickly.
Many stories have made the national news over the last few years about teenagers who were harassed, attacked, kidnapped, or even committed suicide as a result of their online activities. The technology cannot parent the child. It’s really that simple. Adult supervision should always accompany the online activities of children. Parents shouldn’t assume or expect the owner of a website to keep their kids safe. It simply doesn’t work that way. Please take the time to talk with your kids about the dangers of online criminals. A little dose of reality can go a long way in the realm of unreality.