Internet Safety Is Not A Technology Problem, It Is A Parenting Problem

A recent story about a teen romance gone wrong, had reportedly started on Xbox. Now their parents and police say the four Iowa teens have run away from their homes. Two teenage girls from Shellsburg and two teenage boys from Atlantic went missing in what police think may have been a plotted escape.

One of the boy’s mothers said, “I don’t let him have a Facebook account because I don’t want him meeting people online.” She added, “I didn’t realize they could do so much on Xbox.”

Parents need to understand the technology that their kids are using, not just let them blindly do whatever they want.  Yes, this takes time.  And, yes, this is more trouble than my parents had to deal with.  But, this is the era we live in.

A study recently conducted by McAfee and MSI Research called, “The Digital Divide,” revealed that this instant access to information and digital devices is impacting our teens more than many of us parents realize. Some of the findings include:

Meeting strangers – 12% of 13-17 year olds, after communicating with a stranger online met them in the real world.

Physical safety – 7% feared for their safety because of something that happened online, and 5% reported getting into a physical fight because of a problem that started online.

Criminal record – 15% said they have hacked someone’s social networking account and 31% have pirated music and movies.

Innocence – 46% of teens report accidentally accessing pornography online and 32% reported accessing pornography intentionally.

And what about the parents? The study showed:

1 in 3 believes their teen to be much more tech-savvy then they are, leaving them feeling helpless to keep up with their teen’s online behaviors.

22% of parents do not believe their kids can get into trouble online.

Less than 1 in 10 parents are aware their teens are hacking accounts or downloading pirated content.

78% of parents are not worried about their kids cheating at school.

Only 12% of parents thought their children accessed pornography online.

How can this be prevented?

Parents, you must stay in-the-know. Since your teens have grown up in an online world, they may be more online savvy than their parents, but you can’t give up. You must challenge yourselves to become familiar with the complexities of the teen online universe and stay educated on the various devices your teens are using to go online.

What are the conversations that parents should be having with their teens?

As a parent of two young girls, I proactively participate in their online activities and talk to them about the “rules of the road” for the Internet. Talk with your kids about the risks and rewards of the online world, and be specific about threats that exist. Stay involved in their online activities by asking them to show you things they enjoy online and sites they visit.

Stay involved in your teens social networking activities by joining the sites and connecting to them. Talk with them about strangers, new friends and suspicious messages.

Ask them what sites they use to communicate with others. There are many lesser-known networks used by teens to communicate with one another — such as Skout,  MeetMe, Tagged, Tumblr and many more.

Consider using tools to help keep your kids safe online and support family Internet rules. While Anti-virus software protects against security threats, parental control software such as McAfee Safe Eyes gives parents tools to protect their kids from inappropriate contact and stay informed about their online behavior.

How can parents become more tech savvy?

Get device savvy: Whether you’re using a laptop, desktop, Mac, tablet, mobile, wired Internet, wireless, or software, learn it. No excuses. No more, “My kids know more than I do,” or, “All I know how to do is push that button-thingy.” Take the time to learn enough about your devices to wear them out or outgrow them.

Get social: One of the best ways to get savvy is to get social. By using your devices to communicate with the people in your life, you inevitably learn the hardware and software. Keep in mind that “getting social” doesn’t entail exposing all your deepest, darkest secrets, or even telling the world you just ate a tuna sandwich. Proceed with caution here.

Manage your/their online reputation: Whether you are socially active or not, whether you have a website or not, there are plenty of websites that know who you are, that are either discussing you or listing your information in some fashion. Google yourself and your kids to see what’s being said. Developing your online persona through social media and blogging will help you establish and maintain a strong online presence.

Get secure: There are more ways to scam people online than ever before. Your security intelligence is constantly being challenged, and your hardware and software are constant targets. Invest in antivirus, anti-spyware, anti-phishing, and firewalls. Getting security-savvy is a great way to start a new year.

I’m hoping that this report and new case opens other parent’s eyes so they’ll become more involved in educating their teens with advice and tools.

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