Good Digital Parenting
Blog | Sept. 17, 2012

Is Your Kid Safe Online?

Author, Free Range Kids

What if your parents had picked up the extension line and quietly eavesdropped every time you called a friend back in high school? Most likely the very idea gets whatever hair you have left (depending on your age and gender) standing on end. 

So why are so many moms and dad interested in monitoring their kids online? 

The fear is that somehow kids on computers are much more vulnerable than kids on a princess phone. Parents have heard stats like, “One in seven juveniles will be solicited online” and, understandably, they freak out. 

Having spoken to the man who came up with that stat -- David Finkelhor, head of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire – I’m happy to report that by “solicit” he meant the equivalent of Internet “wolf whistles.” He's talking about teens teasing other teens saying things like, "Are you a virgin?" or, "What's your bra size?" It's not elevated discourse, but then again, it's generally not an adult parading as a teen looking to meet up. 

The notion that predators are using the Internet like a catalog is wrong, says Finkelhor, if only because trolling for cute kids on Facebook is on par with dialing numbers out of the phone book and hoping for a date -- an incredibly low-yield strategy. So instead, they go looking for "low-hanging fruit. Kids who are going to be easy," says Finkelhor. "And they do that much more by going to places where there’s already a kind of hint of sexual availability." 

Sexual chat rooms, he means. Not your kids' endless online chats or social media exchanges with their friends. 

In truth, the virtual world is not very different from the real one. Just as you and your friends used to hang out at the mall, your kids are hanging out on Facebook. Just like you and your friends would have walked away from a creepy stranger, your children shut out random people that try to connect with them too. 

Teach your children never to meet up with a stranger online the same way you teach them never to go off with a stranger in the "real" world. Then try to remember how great it felt to talk to your friends on the phone, just minutes after you’d gotten home from school. Your parents trusted you. 

Now it’s your turn to trust your kids too.