In my real life, I’m a lot of things. I’m an avid reader, blogger, writer, community volunteer, sister, daughter, and wife. But my most important role is mom. I’m the parent of a 19 year old daughter and a 10 year old son, and I take my role as parent seriously. Seriously enough that I’ve sometimes been referred to as a “helicopter mom.” And I own it. I’m not embarrassed about it. My number one job in this world is to protect my children and teach them the rights and wrongs of the world — and protect them from those who would do them harm — until they’re old enough to step out on their own. My daughter is there, but I still have more than a few years with my son.
Personally speaking, I love social media. I love connecting on Facebook and Twitter, I’ll occasionally post to Instagram, and I’m even finding my way around Google Plus and LinkedIn. But, as a parent, I will say that social media and cell phones may be the scariest tools we’ve ever given our children. Even with guidelines in place, these tools can be a direct line to our children by predators; and we need to be diligent in the way we oversee their use by our children.
Once upon a time, our discussions with our children as they related to “stranger danger” included things like “Never take candy from a stranger,” or “Never accept a ride from a stranger.” These days, those conversations need to be much more intense. They need to include things like “Never accept a friend request on social media from someone you’re not 100% certain you know,” and “Never ever ever give out personal information, even if you think you know that person.” Sadly, we can tell our kids this repeatedly, but they don’t always listen. They think they know more than we do as parents. They think they’re invincible. “It won’t happen to me,” seems to be their motto.
Yesterday I was on Facebook and viewed a video that completely freaked me out until the fear forced tears from my eyes. I wasn’t crying out of sympathy or sadness, but out of stark fear.
Coby Persin, An attractive 20-something young man, decided to do a social media experiment. He made a fake profile on Facebook, posing as a 14 year-old boy and — with the parents’ permission — friend-requested three girls, ages 12-14. In only a few days, Persin had gained their trust and, with the parents at his side, he made plans to meet these girls “in secret.” The results are shocking and dangerous.
Mikayla: Age 13
Waited until a day when her parents had left the home, then made plans to meet what she thought was a 14 year-old boy at the park. She sends a text message saying “My parents just left. I can be at the park in 10 minutes.” When she arrives, 20-something Persin calls her by name, tells her that he’s the boy she’s been chatting with on Facebook, and her body language shows absolutely no surprise or fear. She approaches him confidently.
Julianna: Age 12
Invites Persin to her home late at night and innocently gives him her home address. She sends him a text message telling him that she has to wait until her dad falls asleep because she’s not allowed to have boys in the home, then later messages him to say “I think my dad fell asleep, you can come now.” When Persin arrives, she blindly opens the door to him. It doesn’t seem to phase her that he looks nothing like his Facebook photo and he is clearly not a 14 year-old boy.
This one is by far the scariest. Over the course a few days, she texts back and forth with Persin and they even have a phone conversation. She waits until an evening her parents leave the home, then makes plans to be picked up by Persin to go out with a boy she’s never met. Persin drives to her home in what looks like a commercial van, complete with blocked out windows. He pulls up to the the house, Jenna comes out and approaches the van confidently, and asks Persin “Are you Daniel’s brother?” Persin responds that he is and says, “Hop in – he’s in the back.” Jenna blindly hops in the front seat and the door closes.
In every case, one or both of the parents were with Persin when he met their daughters. These girls were lucky. When I see this video, I wonder about the many kids who go missing without a trace every day, and I wonder how many of them were lured away in exactly this manner.
So, what can we do as parents? How can we prevent this from happening? Obviously the easiest course is to deny access to mobile phones, social media and computers; but that’s probably not realistic. So what’s the next-best solution? As parents, we need to be vigilant.
- Never ever say “never” or “not my kid.” Even the best kids make terrible mistakes. Our job as parents is to keep them from making life-altering mistakes.
- Set rules and expectations for your children. What are the expectations for the use of these devices and social media? What is the penalty for abuse?
- Remind them how much you love them, and that it’s not them you distrust so much as you distrust the world around them. You don’t trust other people.
- Cell Phones: Don’t be afraid to monitor their text logs and call history. Consider setting rules in place that disallows your child from erasing any text messages, then make a point of randomly going through the messages to see what types of contacts they’re having. You can even log onto your mobile phone account online and see what phone numbers are being called or texted. Do any of these numbers look unfamiliar to you? If so, ask your child who they belong to. If something feels off, ask our child to view that particular text conversation. You don’t need to go overboard and do this every day. It’s enough to do it randomly so that your child knows you can and will be watching out for them.
- Facebook and other Social Media: Consider setting up Facebook with you as the “keeper” of the password. This means that your child cannot log onto Facebook unless you log him/her on. Consider setting up a junk e-mail account to forward all messages and posts. This gives you the ability to see all activity on the account including the private messages. And maybe even more important than anything, set those security settings as high as you can so that predators have difficulty finding your child.
- E-mail: Don’t be afraid to monitor your child’s incoming and outgoing e-mail. Check occasionally for questionable contact.
- Know when to step back. At some point as your child gets older, you’ll need to release the reigns. Maybe by age 16 when your child has more maturity, you can step back and start letting them take control. But a 12 or 13 year old still lacks the life experiences to fully understand the level of danger out there.
- Above all, full disclosure and honesty. DO NOT do this behind your child’s back. There is no better way to lose your child’s trust than to sneak around and try to catch them in the act of misbehavior. Remember: your job is to protect them, not set them up for punishment at misbehavior. Your kids need to know that. They need to know your actions are protective and not intended to penalize.
The important thing to remember is that you don’t have to go overboard with your monitoring. For the most part, just knowing that Mom or Dad can and will see what is being posted is enough to deter them from doing anything that you’d disapprove.
Do you have kids? What advice do you have as it relates to cell phones and social media? Do you think this advice goes too far? I’d love to hear your thoughts, so be sure to leave a comment below.
Watch the full video
The Dangers of Social Media
(Child Predator Social Media Experiment)
by Coby Persin