Wednesday, July 10, 2013

What (Potential) Dangers Await Your Teen Online?

If your teenagers are anything like the ones I know, they are very adept with technology. I can't even begin to count the number of times I've had to ask my nephew how to use certain features on my iPod or get to the controls on Facebook! It's because they're so active and adept that I've felt the need to warn you about some of the things they (or maybe even you!) may come across online. Hopefully your child has never come across these problems, but it's good to know about them in case they do.

-Sexting, pictures or words.
I think the problems with teens sending sexy pictures or text messages to others is pretty obvious. It's one thing for adults to do that within a marriage, but teenagers tend to be more risky and thus are more likely to take these things a bit too far.

Frankly, I wouldn't *want* naked pictures of me to be in 'tangible' form! I have an ex who was very vindictive-imagine what could have happened had I sent him a picture like that? Let's just say our mutual friends would know waaaaaay too much about me! 

-Meeting people in chat rooms or forums who aren't who they seem to be. I understand it's possible to get to trust someone through online conversations; in fact, some online communities are more 'closely-knit' than 'real-life' ones! I've met great friends (and boyfriends!) online. However, not all internet relationships turn out well.

Sometimes people will 'spoof' or pretend to be something they aren't. They might do this for fun or to 'troll', but they also may be predators who do or say these things to lure a possible 'mark'. For instance, an adult might visit teen chat rooms and listen as though they understand you and say what they think you want to hear, what is necessary to get you to let your guard down and feel comfortable sharing more and more information-personal information you probably wouldn't share with a stranger on the street. They may or may not pretend to be the same age, but a lot of the time we just assume that everyone in a chatroom fits that chatroom's 'profile' when they very well may not. It might not seem that the person on the other side of the screen is a stranger but, technically, they are. Exercise the same caution online as you would in real life, and then some. However, don't be afraid to get to know new people online in an intimate way, because you might miss out on some great opportunities. Just be smart about it.

-Online Games Gaming (World of Warcraft, etc) does pose a chance of meeting someone who isn't what they say they are, but the risk is not as high as in chat rooms. The reason for this is that, according to some players I know, most conversation that goes on is about the game only. They might exchange things like 'a/s/l' (age, sex, location) and occasionally hit it off with someone, but most of the time they are so occupied with the game that they don't think about socializing.

When it comes to the games your kids play, however, consider the content. What is the object of the game? Is said object something (stealing cars, killing cops, etc) you don't want your kids seeing glorified? Is it too violent? What sort of violence does it have-cartoonish or graphic? Games rated 'M for Mature' are so for a reason. Of course, a lot depends on your particular child. You know what s/he can handle.

-Parental controls. I'm sure no one likes to think about their kids looking at porn, so you can definitely use your parental controls to screen out content you don't want them to see (sexual, drug-related, etc). They aren't foolproof, but at least you can 'relax' the controls as you see fit.

-Streaming. Be cautious (and teach your kids the same) when it comes to streaming content or file-sharing. This is because a) all 'torrents' or content might not be legal (i.e. Napster), and b) this is a common way for malware and spyware to come onto your system, some of which is extremely harmful and/or can result in things like identity theft or password stealing. Sometimes the damage is intentional, but it is possible for viruses and whatnot to come on attachments without the sender knowing it. Some viruses 'replicate'-meaning, the virus not only messes up the receiver's computer, it sends itself to everyone that person emails or talks to. Don't accept or download files from people you don't really know.

As I've said before, technology can be wonderful to use. There are, however, people out there who like to make things a little 'less wonderful' and it helps to know how to combat those things. A lot of these things seem obvious, but it's really easy for your kids (or even you) to get caught up in the fun and miss some signs of trouble. Overall, know your children and make your decisions accordingly. 

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