Allison’s phone buzzed as she searched through her purse to find it. When she glanced at the screen, her stomach knotted up. As if she hadn’t had enough to deal with for one day, already having to fill out paperwork at the bank regarding unauthorized purchases with her debit card, her son’s school office was calling. Again. For the third time that month. Once had been due to Chase not turning in assignments, the time after that he’d gotten into a fight. She took a deep breath and answered. “Hello?”
“Mrs. Jenkins, this is Chase’s principal. I need to speak with you. Can you come down to the school this afternoon?” Allison hung up the phone in despair. She couldn’t imagine what could be so bad that the principal wouldn’t discuss it over the phone.
The next hour was filled with worry and speculation. She thought she had prepared herself for anything. She was certain she’d thought of the worst-case scenarios. She was wrong. When she entered the principal’s office, a police officer waited for her. He was dressed in plain clothes, but his badge was easily visible on his belt. Panic swept through her. She hadn’t imagined the police would be involved. What Allison found out that afternoon she hadn’t expected at all. Chase wasn’t the culprit this time – he was the target.
At 12 years old, Chase had used his computer lab time the same as many of his friends, to create and participate in social media accounts that he was legally too young to do without parental permission. In the process, Chase had given out a lot of personal information. His address, phone number, the school he attended, names of family members and more. Suddenly, things began to click. If Chase had been doing the same things at home on the family computer, maybe she’d found how her bank account had been compromised. The police officer was part of a task force that had been working with the school and monitoring some of the activity that had led to a 13 year-old student being abducted the year before. Chase and some of his friends appeared to be following the same patterns.
It was time Allison had a long talk with her son. She was certain having a police officer to back her up could only help.
Our kids are growing up in a media saturated world that’s not always easy to navigate even for adults. That’s why it’s up to us to help them understand that anything and everything they put on the internet can be copied, pasted, forwarded, searched, and viewed by literally millions of people.
Today’s youth are constantly sending texts, posting on social media sites, IM’ing, and sharing videos and photos for friends to see. What they don’t consider is that their online lives aren’t always as private as they think. In fact, most of them don’t think about their privacy at all. With most mobile devices having GPS and location sharing built in, our kids have the ability to share or post their exact location at any time. This isn’t just a marketing concern when it comes to our children, it’s a safety concern.
Here are a few things to share with your kids so they understand better how they can help themselves.
Never share private information. They may not understand what falls into this category and they need to be reminded what information is actually private: birthdays, addresses, phone numbers, where they go to school. Consider other things that might be applicable specifically to your child.
Use privacy settings. Whenever your child sets up a new account, teach them that it’s always a good idea to use the privacy settings available. This includes social media networks like Facebook, apps they download onto their phones or tablets, and even multi-player video games they play online. Go to the settings and set up the privacy profile that works best for your child.
Be courteous. Help your kids realize that it isn’t just about what they post about themselves, it’s about others too. Remind them that they wouldn’t want their friends or classmates posting photos, videos or comments about them that could be embarrassing or infringe on their privacy so it’s best to follow the Golden Rule here.
In our 24/7 media-filled world information is being bought and sold, hacked and shared. You can never be too careful when it comes to protecting your privacy and that of your children. Educating yourself and them is essential.