So, you probably know by now that the average person on the Internet is not a murderer. They might be a Pick Up Artist, misogynist, racist or totally normal. The truth is, you never really know a person until you meet them. And even then, it’s murky.
But when you’re a kid, “meeting” can mean hanging out at night after a few Facebook chats. Caution can be thrown to the wind, and faster than you can scream help, that 15-year-old boy your daughter was talking to could actually be a grown man.
That’s the premise of this “Child Predator Social Experiment” video from Coby Persin. He masqueraded as a 15-year-old boy online and lured three young girls into conversations with the intention of meeting them. He asked permission of the young womens’ parents, and they obliged.
This video sheds a light on the Internet activity of children, but it also speaks to how we as a society communicate every day. And while the idea of your child being stuck in this kind of pickle is terrifying, you can’t realistically watch your child every moment of every day, because that’s crazy. But what you can do is discuss the fine art of making new friends on the Internet with your kids so they don’t get roped into a social experiment by an adult male (or worse, get roped into a meeting with a child predator).
Here’s how you tread lightly:
1. Tell your kids that the Internet is a useful tool, but not everything should be taken at face value. Just like researching for a school paper, the web is full of misinformation. Lies are being sold as fact, and people are being sold as people they are not. Approach everything with a hint of skepticism, because the more you question, the more you actually know.
2. Use Google. A picture isn’t just a picture. Advise your child to do their homework. While the Internet is a great tool to make new friends, encourage your children to get to know the person first. Right-click and search for their images on Google. Or save the image to your desktop and reverse-image search the photos. It’s a good place to start if they’re trying to figure out if this person is real. But photos aren’t enough. Advise them to spend time chatting with people they’re interested in talking to and meeting. Actually spend time.
3. Have conversations. This applies to both you and your child. Make your kid feel like they can bring anything to you – situations that thrive on secrets encourage a lot of absent information. What if the person she’s meeting up with is a predator? By not sharing a location or details about the meet-up, your kid is setting herself up for a whole world of vulnerability. They may think it’s over-protective to talk about it, but you have to protect them a little. And by engaging your kid in a conversation, you’ll let them know you don’t have a problem with making new friends online, and that you don’t have a problem with something that breaks down barriers.
4. One is the loneliest number. If your kid is meeting someone for the first time, they should not go alone. A new friend shouldn’t ask anyone to get into a car, or skulk around secretively in the dead of night. New hangs for an adult are reserved for coffee, in the day or the early evening. The same should easily apply to kids. If there’s no light, it ain’t right.