Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Predator and prey on the internet

Local headline news today:
"Online romance ends in an arrest when Lancaster girl text messages for help" (Buffalo News). This topic has been on my mind since reading yh's blog post "stop blaming myspace". About 3 years ago, FBI held informational meetings at our school district to talk to staff and parents about the dangers of the internet for teens. I hate to admit how behind the times I was - that was the first time I really saw myspace pages (projected on large screen from computer monitor). FBI gave example after example of young people in our area who met total strangers online and then in person. I walked away from the meeting horrified, terrified. (See FBI Parent Guide to Internet Safety.)

I grew up WAY before the internet and had VERY strict parents. Here's my perspective as parent now of 6 year old girl. The whole point of raising a child is to help (push, drag, whatever) her into independence. The toddler needs constant, vigilant supervision in any room of the house. The 6 year old does not, hurray! I limit the 6 year old's choices of TV channels/shows, movies. When will I stop doing that, and by what degrees? What are the points in between??? When should she be allowed to watch MTV? When should I put a TV in her own room? When should I give her a mobile phone to use to call us, and then to call her friends? When should she have her own computer, set up in her own room? (According to the FBI agent at the informational meeting I attended, DON'T allow it! Keep the computer in a common area.) Doesn't all this depend on the kid, the parents, other family, friends, any number of unique circumstances?

Parenting is a puzzle that no one else can tell you how to solve. If the puzzle works out, others compliment you (and your in-laws think the child was just born perfect), even though no one really knows how the puzzle was solved (i.e. nature vs. nurture). If the puzzle does NOT work out, there are countless people pointing fingers, second guessing, judging (yeah, I do it, too).

Bottom line: Forget blame and fault. Just tell me what to do to protect children and foil predators. For my students, I remind them over and over to be careful online, to not trust strangers no matter what they say, to inform their parents of their online activities (SERIOUSLY). I'm careful about assignments with online components, to explain safety, to inform parents. But there's only one child I can follow home and monitor, and she's only 6, and I really DON'T know how I'll monitor her when she's 12. And even if she never falls prey online or otherwise, I still can't claim our example as THE single parenting solution. There never is. So when I hear "blame the parents" when children fall prey, I'm doubtful. That's all.

Update: please read and participate in comment discussion. Also new post from yh on this topic.


yh said...

I agree that you can't solely blame the parents if the child ends up falling prey to a predator on the internet. Afterall, they are not jaded and therefore more trusting to strangers (whether old or young) because they're still "hiding" behind the screen of their computer.

However, I still think that parents have an obligation to be aware of what their kids are doing. I've seen many people (on tv, the news, etc) go on about how their kid was "a straight A student" and "not a bad kid" when he gets gunned down during a drive-by shooting... all stemming from drugs or gangs.

Unfortunately, this society makes it harder for a parent to be a parent because it's more expensive now than it was years ago. And it's harder to be aware of kids who are smart and can do more things with a computer than we could. I still think that being vigilant and nosey is a good way to keep an eye on the kids. Ask questions... it's still the parent's job to know what's going on in their kid's life. :)

roller coaster teacher said...

Responsibility - deserves its own post and "label" - my colleagues and I talk endlessly about this topic at school, as in, students need to take responsibility for their actions, such as studying or not, doing homework or not, following codes of conduct or not. TOO often, magically, students and parents deflect that responsibility to teachers, as in, the teacher should have called home and told parents that the project was overdue before giving a failing grade.

So I'm WITH YOU on responsibility. I absolutely agree that parents should STOP trying to be friends with their kids and BE nosy, annoying, mean, strict, etc. I hated my parents when they did it, but I'm eternally thankful now.

I do believe, in the case of internet safety, society needs more. More than just judging parents. I choose the responsibility to inform students and parents, to warn my friends who are parents of young teens, to blog (like yh). Aren't there actions individuals or businesses can take to help protect children, not because of some legal duty, but because we are human and we need to take care of each other? Our collective efforts combined with our good intentions can make a difference, right?

Legislation can go awry - just look at No Child Left Behind (another worthy blog topic), coercing teachers and school administrators to improve student performance because parenting can't (and should? shouldn't?) be legislated. (Now I'm itching to sound off on THAT topic. Stay tuned.)

I'll shut up, for now! I really do appreciate the dialog (and thinking) you generate, yh. Thank you!

jenamoured said...

You know, this is tough for me because I am not a parent and I did grow up in the internet age. The fact is that predators are as cunning now as they were ages ago, they just have tools to make it easier. And kids see the internet as a safe place, because this is how they connect and communicate with their friends, keep in touch with family members from far away, and even do work for school.

I think chatrooms, etc have really fallen out of vogue with teens (no one really uses IRC anymore, and not many people post to message boards), but sites like myspace are opening up a whole new way for strangers to get to kids.

Quite honestly, I think the best way to deal with things like this-- open lines of communication-- is to be honest with the kids about what is going on. Teach the kids how to protect themselves online, instead of just blindly trying to protect them.

roller coaster teacher said...

Thanks, jen, I was hoping you'd chime in on this.

Teach the kids to think for themselves, right? Teach them to check with adults they trust when they're not sure, when they have questions. *deep breath* Ok. As you pointed out, technology keeps changing...

Jayme said...

Jenamoured just about took the words right out of my mouth. I think that it's important for parents to find out what their kids are up to, but I think the most important thing is to be completely honest with them. (I'm speaking as someone who has no kids and grew up using MSN as my main source of communication)

Tell your child why it's not a good idea for them to be meeting friends on the internet. That even though they don't think so, people out their looking to hurt innocent kids. They will probably roll their eyes and rudely say "I know that already" (because that is exactly what I would have done to my mother if she tried to say that to me) but then later, your words will pop up in their head and your point will be made.

I have a myspace account, and so I know good and well that it’s only as dangerous as I make it. Just like most things on the internet. I have my account set to private. I don’t want random people checking out my page and I don’t add people I don’t know. Myspace is an awesome way to stay connected to people and find old buddies and such, but it obviously can be used against you. I just hate when people blame myspace for the problems… Don’t blame myspace, you’re the idiot who put your full name, date of birth, address, phone number, social security number and 52 pictures of yourself with all different hair colors. Then you’ve got 14,000 friends, who I’m sure you don’t actually know. So essentially 14,000 people have this information. I’m exaggerating a bit, and maybe rambling some also it is just a pet peeve. Now I think I’m in the mood to blog.

jenamoured said...

Exactly-- essentially you're doing for your daughter exactly what you try to do for your students. You're constantly trying to show them how to discern between right and wrong, and how to do things, how to solve problems, and when to ask for help. You can apply those same strategies here.

And, really, meeting friends from the internet isn't that weird. I've met several. But, at 13 years old, it's really not a good idea to go meeting a perfect stranger (though you've emailed and chatted a thousand times) in any kind of place, public or private (didn't you see that Degrassi episode?!). If your kid insists on meeting, offer to chaperone. Of course, things get infinitely more difficult when the kid can drive herself somewhere, but as long as you're teaching 'right responsibility' things should go pretty smoothly.

As for MTV-- Don't ever let her watch it. Haha. It just teaches people how to be bratty and entitled. I can't stand that asinine crap.

Anyway, it may not even matter. By the time your daughter reaches the age where these things are a reality, we may have regressed into unabomber type behaviors, living in huts in the woods and making our own explosives without electricity to avoid government conspiracies. ;P

Yuriko said...

I had a thought... then lost it when I was reading the rest of the comments. :_) I grew up without a home computer in high school. I used a typewriter...(manual and electronic). It's no surprise that predators today have a farther reach than before. Before, parents had to worry about kids walking home from school -- and strangers coming up to them to take them. (They still do, mind you, but this is even worse, I think.)

Now, the predator literally comes and preys on your kids when they're at home. Where they should be safe... and no wonder parents get a little flustered and anxious about chat rooms. So, literally blocking them from chatting won't work... they'll wonder why you're keeping them from it. I think teaching them what's out there... talking to them.. AND being nosey -- like having a profile themselves (the parents, I mean) would encourage the kids to tone it down.

Afterall, building a fence around a pool isn't necessarily going to keep the kid from getting in and drowning. You can teach your kids how to swim and they'll have a better shot at survival. Of course, nothing is foolproof.

By the way... ever try to click on the "next blog" button atop some of these pages and get into one of them XXX sites? Companies like Google and Blogger need to put a filter in so people who DON'T want to see these pages do not have to endure them when they want to explore a little.

roller coaster teacher said...

Yeah, I can't stand "next blog" for that exact reason. I've found some really interesting blogs that way, but it's kinda nerve-wracking, never knowing if my visual senses will be assaulted. I can't believe there's no easy topical search function within blogger. Yeah, I don't need Google to police so much as manage better.

Orchid in the Bronx said...

Had an interesting babysitting experience with a two year-old. I sort of dreaded it, but was doing a friend a favor. Mostly, I find it exhausting to "entertain" a child, coming up with hours of games and stimuli, etc. But this kid was very independent, in the sense that she knew what she wanted to do, for how long, and in what manner. Her parents speak with her constantly - do you want this or that? Are you done, or a little more? She is continually being put in the position of thinking and deciding for herself, and communicating about her decision. It not only encourages her to think and act, but also gives her the exerience of agency (even if the choices presented are in fact limited)- which cuts down on battles of the will with mom and dad. A great model of nudging a child toward independence at every turn.

roller coaster teacher said...

OITB - you need to come babysit G and give me your analysis.

Freshman nerd ;P said...

You definitely have to be careful on the internet. I've heard of so many cases where young girls get into trouble with people they meet online. On the other hand, it's not always the parents' fault or the child's. I've also heard of quite a few incidents where people got into trouble with internet strangers because their friends posted their addresses and such.