Creepers by Peggy Bogaard-Lapp
I attended an Internet Safety seminar at my child’s school this week. I went because my daughter is 10 and I’m afraid that she is being introduced to things through her friends that I am not aware of. And I was totally right – she is. Kids around her are gaining access to the world wide web, often without their own parents knowing about it. Some don’t even have to hide it from their parents. But regardless of where my daughter is hearing about things like Instagram I have to take full responsibility for how she handles it.
As Investigator Mike Harris spoke about the surprising things that adults do to lure kids into internet and text conversations, I became increasingly nauseous. The men (98% of offenders) started chatting online with boys and girls alike, looking for those who were lonely, unsupervised, and easily persuaded. Mike told story after story of catching the offender at a local meeting place, after posing as a teenage boy or girl. To date his unit has arrested over 640 creepers, as the kids call them. Part of me was grateful that Mike’s team was out there, turning the tables on these creepers. Another part of me was feeling deep sadness for the kids who actually met face to face with danger, and maybe didn’t live to tell about it. I was surprised, however, at how many kids are taught not to share their information online, even a name or location, but still do it.
Behind me sat the parents of a kindergartener at our school. They, like me, were surprised that there were only a handful of parents attending Mike’s seminar. As we talked, I realized that a lot of parents are probably like me, afraid to admit that we are in a bit over our head, and the kids rule the technology world. After all, who knows more about apps, them or you? Not me! These parents shared information with the group about the parental control app they found to keep their kids from accidentally getting on sites they shouldn’t be on. It was comforting to know that there are things out there that can help parents battle the invisible forces out there, because they are out there, worming their way into any crevice they can.
The take home message from the seminar was simply this: don’t talk to strangers, on line or otherwise. If you don’t know someone personally, face-to-face, then you don’t know them in cyber space, and there is no way to know who they really are. You wouldn’t let someone you didn’t know walk into your house and start talking to your child; so there should be no difference in doing it over the Internet.
I’m not going to panic and forbid her from looking at what the web has to offer. I’m confident that she is making smart choices – except when she showed me the parody video of Miley Cyrus’ latest song (don’t bother searching it, it’s terrible!) – but then again, she’s 10. I’M the adult here, and it’s MY job to sometimes say no. And that’s what I did. She understood why, and we discussed how much of the Internet is not appropriate, even if it is available to kids. It was a great chance to have the conversation, again, about what is good and what is bad. I don’t look over her shoulder every time she picks up the iPad. She doesn’t have a personal page on any social media. I know what you are thinking; it will happen eventually. I see that coming, but hope that I’m laying the groundwork now, and giving her the tools she will need later. Crazy, but I think she will be teaching me a lot along the way as well.