Saturday, November 14, 2009

Online Safety

I have an 11 year old dd. She is not allowed free realm on the computer. I monitor her email, her surfing, her homework site, her online gaming site (which is protected so that kids can't inadvertently share any identifying information)

However, she has a life outside of electronics.

After school, she went to an activity as usual. During this activity, there is lots of downtime for homework or reading. She reads. An acquaintance was playing with their DS. Penguin was called over when said acquaintance hissed "Hey, Penguin, what school do you go to?"

She answered. Then was told that "this guy" in a chat room "knows her".

The chat went something like "OMG, so do you guys know (insert popular nickname)"
"You mean (insert last name)"
"Yeah, I went to like preschool with her. Where does she go now?"

They exchanged the names of several kids in the activity, and clarified when it ended in case he wanted to meet them. He didn't show up.

She has been informed that she is to remain glued to the instructor until an adult she knows (carpool driver) arrives to pick her up, regardless of anyone knowing her name. She isn't even to go to the bathroom alone after this.

But what bothers me most is that the instructors aren't concerned. The other parents I know at first were amused until I pointed out that mystery-kid didn't share any identifying info. He just claimed to know the other kids, by using common first names and nicknames. He was given first and last names of class participants, schools attended and the time frame they are least supervised. And everyone, including the parents, think it's cool. (Put this way, they no longer think it's cute and a whole lot of other kids are getting a talk about online safety, and how it extends to any text message setting.)

Most likely it was a real kid. Sitting, waiting for a parent or sibling, bored out of his mind.

But what if it wasn't?

It's frightening to think how easily all this info was gleaned from kids. How anxious they were to share. Penguin has been given a quick, prettied up (but scary enough for her to listen) lesson in reality. There are bad people out there. If you can't see someone, you don't know if they're boy, girl woman or man. And you don't know how old they are. In the words of an old online friend, I'd much rather hug my child as I tell her a story I don't want her to hear, than hold her (or worse, not hold her) while I listen to a real life nightmare unfold.

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