For parents, getting a child to comprehend the concept of an online stranger, can be a difficult task. Children have no yardstick to measure this by. Sometimes the efforts of parents to teach this message, can be unsuccessful. Just by telling a child, not to accept a stranger as a friend, or follower when online, generally will not work.
It is not unusual to discover very young children in National School, with thousands of Friends or Followers, on a single platform, or spread over several different Social Media and Gaming platforms. Children seem to struggle in comprehending the danger. How a stranger met they meet online could pose a threat, especially if they cannot identify the danger in the message given by parents, or examples being used.
Children can be very over trusting of this modern technology. They are also under incredible pressure to behave and engage in the same activities as their peers when they go online. The Social mediums children use also heavily influences their decisions. Children perceive having Friends or Followers as having their own fans. They recognise that the more Friends or Followers they have, is directly proportional to their online popularity.
Due to their over trusting nature when children come in to contact with people, if they have not had a negative experience online with a stranger, then they appear to be more inclined to accept the countless requests they receive. Upon seeing that the profile belongs to a seemingly nice individual, possibly the same age and has the same interests, chances are that they will not see the potential danger.
When interacting with children, we are constantly attempting to provide a real world example for a particular online behaviour, or situation that we are explaining. We would ask that parents do the same. In the real world, it is reasonable for parents to assume, if a child is in a playground, should a stranger approach, they would know to seek help immediately and get away from the stranger. This will be a learned behaviour for the child.
The success of the concept being taught to the child, comes from both the parent and child having been in the playground together. In the real world you are watching as the child plays. If a stranger does approach, the child will most likely look at you, to gauge your response on how they will act. From the parent’s reaction and body language, the child will sense possible danger and react accordingly in the manner which you have taught them.
For most children we have met, parents have let them in to the online playground on their own. Very often, the children are left to fend for themselves here. If there is no way for them to gauge your reaction when a stranger approaches here, in all likelihood the child will communicate with the online stranger. Parents need to remember also, the stranger who approaches a child will never initially present as a danger. They will appear as a person of a similar age. Thereby fooling the child.
The stranger could present themselves as a famous person, even have a profile of a person who child knows, created by harvesting the images of the person from their own profile. For those who are familiar with ‘The Young Offenders’, it would be the real world equivalent, of a person arriving in to the playground wearing a ‘Bill Murphy’ mask. Is this person ’The real Billy Murphy’?
So what should Parents do –
Stay involved with your child’s life online. Visit the sites and mediums, the online playgrounds the children are spending time in. Get to know the other people your child is playing and interacting with there. You will be able identify a danger long before your child will.
Use the real world example of if your child wants to go and play with someone in the real world, then they have to ask you is it ok first. Develop this behaviour with the child online until it becomes second nature as early as possible. Your child would never question doing this in the real world. So why should the online world be any different. Make it a rule of the house, before you interact with a person online, the child needs to ask you first is it ok to play with this person.
Our real world example of receiving the Friend or Follower request is this. Imagine sitting at home late at night and the telephone rings, the child goes to answer the phone and the person on the end says, “Can I Be your Friend?”, or “How are things, eh, I want to start Following you?”. That would scare the life out of anyone. Receiving a Friend or Follower request on our devices is the exact same thing, only we do not associate the two. Neither will a child. There is no immediate sense of danger. Teach your children this. Help them understand that this is exactly what is happening.
Use The Rule of Touch. The child can never accept a Friend or Follower unless they can tell you when they were able to touch this person on the shoulder.
Set up Buddy Limits for the child. The maximum number of people an adult can interact with online is 150. That figure may come as a surprise. The number is known as Dunbar’s Maximum. In the 1990’s, a scientific study carried out by Robert Dunbar which revealed, 150 people is the maximum number of people a person would be able to socially interact with. This figure should be far less for children. We would suggest that you set a Buddy Limit for children as early as possible. Set the maximum number of Friends or Followers a child can have, and ensure that these people have passed the Rule of Touch test.
A Friend of a Friend is not your Friend. This is one for both parents and children. If you do not know the person sending the request, even if they are a contact of one of your genuine Friends or Followers, they are a stranger.
Only ever accept people who are the same age. Accepting Friends or Followers who are older than the child, can be harmful for the child. This is because an older child, teen or adult, may post inappropriate content which is not suitable for the child. In the real world, if you saw your child hanging around with people far older than them, you would try prevent it happening again. Try prevent this type of engagement in the online world also.
It is also very important, for parents to know exactly who your child is Following on every platform they are using. Very often children can be allowed to decide for themselves who to Follow. While the individual may be a well-known or famous person. It is very important to ensure that the Profile the child is being exposed too, is suitable for their age. All too often, the children we meet tell us how they were exposed to harmful content this way.
Children share secrets in the playground, the online playground is no different. Here they share secrets also. But this is a dangerous activity, sharing a secret, or something personal, or the exchange of an inappropriate image with someone online gives them tremendous power over a person. They now have something that can be copied, kept, worse threaten to post online.
This is why parents have to help children understand they should never post something online, if it is in any way personal. Imagine writing your darkest secret down on paper and handing it over to someone. When that person walks away with that piece of paper, they could show whoever they wanted to. In that scenario there is possibly a limit to the damage it could cause which is down to the number of people the holder of the secret knows. But if they published it in a newspaper it would reach far more people. If something is put online, it has the potential to reach everyone on the planet.
These are just a few of thing’s we go through with parents and children in our presentations. Just by making little changes in how the child behaves online, can go a great way towards helping them to build the resilience within themselves to stay safe online. Don’t forget you can add your thoughts and comments which always go a long way to help us and all of the other parents who visit our site. You can also contact us for more information on visiting your school, club, association, business.
Hope you had a great weekend folks !!!