• Dr. Timothy Smith

Kids, Don't Talk to Strangers Ever!

kid on bike

Photo Source: MaxPixel

“Don’t talk to strangers,” remains one of the earliest rules parents instill in their kids. Today’s parents not only need to protect their children from dangers in the physical world such as from injury due to accidents around the home or in sports but to the more extreme kinds such as drugs and child predators. Many measures have been taken over the years to protect our kids from the mandatory bicycle helmet to lifeguards at pools and beaches. However, our children also now actively socialize and play in a virtual world through the internet that most parents did not have to navigate as children. Our homes contain many security elements built right into them, such as fences around the perimeter, walls and roofs, and locked windows and doors. Additionally, some homes have electronic surveillance, including cameras and infrared sensors to warn owners of intruders. Our neighbors naturally keep an eye on the activity around our houses too. In contrast to all of the physical security we put in place, the door into the virtual world through the internet and smartphone apps in most of our homes stands glaringly unguarded and wide open. It is like having the front of a castle defended with a high stone wall and fortified gate, but the back of the castle has an open, unguarded gate open to all—friend or foe.

By 2017 in the US, 86% of children ages 3-18 had internet access at home according to the National Center for Educational Statistics. According to statistics released by the University of New Hampshire Crimes Against Children Research Center, “1 in 25 youth (about 4%) got "aggressive" sexual solicitations that included attempts to contact the youth offline. These are the episodes most likely to result in actual victimizations. (About one-quarter of these aggressive solicitations came from people the youth knew in person, mostly other youth.) Moreover, (unh.edu/ccrc/internet-crimes/factsheet_1in7.html) Such easy and broad access to the internet and the prevalence of different means of communication from chat rooms to social media messaging, text messaging, and YouTube affords young people many ways to connect with each other, but it also opens the door to sexual predators to connect with young people.

Given the treats to young people online, parents take different approaches to monitor the kids’ activities online. According to the Pew Research Center, parents of teenagers between the ages of 13 and 17 over 60% of parents checked which websites their teen visited and just under half (48%) checked their kid's phone calls and messages. Additionally, 39% of parents used software to control teen access to the internet, but only 16% use parental control software to restrict phone usage.

Parents continuously try to protect their children from harm by building safeguards into their environment to prevent accidents such as railings to prevent falling or fences to prevent drowning. In the same fashion, parents drum behavioral rules into their children’s heads such as “do not run by the pool,” or “never talk to or accept a ride from a stranger.” Despite all the architectural efforts and behavioral rules parents devise, children today play and socialize in a virtual world that many parents did not grow up with—the internet. Because the internet and its newly introduced dangers of online sexual predators and cyberbullies, parents need to put in new architectural and behavioral safeguards for their children. Although relatively few parents use the parental controls to monitor their kids online, better software such as Net Nanny 10, Qustodio, and others offer content filtering, social media monitoring, and site blocking, which may provide the new elements needed for parents architect a safer virtual environment for their children.

Dr. Timothy Smith

Dr. Smith’s career in scientific and information research spans the areas of bioinformatics, artificial intelligence, toxicology, and chemistry. He has published a number of peer-reviewed scientific papers. He has worked over the past seventeen years developing advanced analytics, machine learning, and knowledge management tools to enable research and support high level decision making. Tim completed his Ph.D. in Toxicology at Cornell University and a Bachelor of Science in chemistry from the University of Washington.

You can buy his book on Amazon in paperback and in kindle format here.

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