Protecting kids from strangers online

Does your child talk to strangers online? You might be surprised by the answer.

In July, I spent a few days in Southern California filming new footage for my online program. I always love working with kids and hearing their stories about their experiences using technology. I was really encouraged that many of them seemed to really understand the concept that everything they do in the digital world is public and to be careful about what they post.

I was pretty shocked though when I asked how many of them have chatted with strangers online. They all had! Even though they seemed to logically understand that this wasn’t a good idea, they did it anyway.

I decided to do a little detective work and looked-up some of the tweens I know on Instagram, to see how many people on average they were following and being followed by. It was pretty alarming. Some of them had as many as 500 followers! It’s true that these are sweet kids, but they do not have that many friends.

Part of the problem is that kids feel popular with lots of followers. They also often feel like they know the other person since he or she is a friend-of-a-friend or they’ve seen them around. However, this just isn’t safe.

Kids often post personal information, including where they go to school, live and other details that could make it easy for someone to find them in-person. Kids have been hurt by grown-ups, pretending to be kids and then luring them into a meeting.

Another risk with befriending strangers has to do with the much-loved selfie. Everyday I see tweens posting selfies, oftentimes from their bedrooms. This is especially dangerous if they have a public account and/or use the “Map my photo” feature since with just one click people can see where they live. Kids should never post anything that would make it possible for someone to find them in-person.

During our taping session, I asked the kids what questions they get asked the most by strangers. Here are some of the most popular answers:

You can watch the clip (and a sneak peak from Cyberstrong Kids 2015) here:

Strangers wanted to know:

-Where do you live?

-What’s your name?

-What school do you go to?

-How old are you?

They realized that strangers could figure out how to find them by asking enough personal questions and that this is dangerous.

We had a great conversation about how anyone can pretend to be someone they aren’t in the cyberworld and that it’s really important to only make friends or accept follow requests from people they actually know.

If you haven’t talked with your child about using caution when interacting with strangers online, I highly encourage you to take a few minutes to make sure they understand the risks. Also, if your child uses Social Media sit down with them and look over their friend and followers lists and make sure they personally know everyone on their lists. Encourage your children to make as many friends as they like in person, but the cyberworld is not a safe place to make new friends.

Some questions that can help you get the conversation started:

-Has a stranger ever tried to talk to you online? What happened? What did you do?

-Do you personally know all of your friends/followers on your Social Media accounts?

-What would you do if you met someone online who wanted to meet you in-person?

-How do you know the person you are chatting with is who they say they are?

Talking with your child about the risks of interacting with strangers online is a conversation that is too important not to have.

Watch your inbox for my soon-to-be-released Cyberstrong Kids 2015 program, which covers this topic as well as much more.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you. Has your child had any problems with strangers online? How do you help your child limit the number of friends and followers they have on Social Media sites?

Hop on over to my Facebook page and share your experiences.

We can all learn from each other.