(Reprint from my Sacramento Cyber Safety Examiner Column)
A Pew Research report on teens and on-line technology found that the teens today are integrating their cyber social realm and physical realms in a way that is profoundly different than previous generations. A new norm is emerging. The idea of making a new friend from an on-line contact is considered the same thing as meeting them in person. And this trend presents a new challenge for parenting tech-savvy kids because it is very easy to be deceived in the cyber social realm. Predators know how to appear as a trustworthy.
Last month, for example, the Sacramento FBI office reached out for public assistance to identify victims of a sextortion pedophile who had terrorized over 350 girls ranging in age from 12 to 14 years. This is every parent’s nightmare for their tech-savvy child; that a sexual predator would seduce and then deface your child’s sense of worth, liberty and dignity. His method of operation was to introduce himself on-line as a teen boy who expressed interest, and then convinced them to compromise themselves with sexually explicit images. Once he had enough to threaten to expose them to their family and friends, he continued to demand more sexual favors which he recorded and documented for his pleasure and profit. All of this transpired on-line and in their own homes.
Cyber social skill: Clarify trust and faith
So how can parents prepare children to recognize a fake friend in their cyber social realms? Clarify the difference between trust and faith. Digital natives seek authenticity and they can easily be deceived because of confusion between trust and faith. Explain to your child that trust among people, especially when making new friends, is always verifiable. While faith, you reserve for God because He requires no proof.
Young girls in their eagerness to find acceptance and love are at risk of agreeing with a “Romeo” bad actor seeking to exploit them. Below are some signs that the on-line “friend” may not be trustworthy, and offer some talking points to help you learn more about your child’s on-line friendships and educate your child about their own ability to be discerning:
Intimacy-focused. Communication is intimate from the start – and the conversations take on a tone as if they have known one another for a very long time. Questions and topics initiated by the “Romeo” are designed to get the child to lower barriers and bond emotionally.
Isolating. There is no social interplay with others in your child’s cyber social realm. This “friend” is hyper focused on captivating your child’s complete attention and the communication becomes isolating, moving the child into other platforms (chat rooms) so that others in their cyber-social community cannot observe what is happening on line.
Vulnerabilities featured. The conversations are focused upon shared vulnerabilities or on an issue your child is dealing with as might be revealed in their media news feed. For example, your child may have some insecurity about her weight or appearance, and the “Romeo” talks about her beauty to offer reassurances of her worth, as false evidence that he cares for her.
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As the Sacramento Cyber Safety Examiner, my personal mission is to educate and inspire parents from all walks of life and social settings to realize their inherent authority to govern the home and educate the child about their own power; the personal power that comes from the spiritual resilience of your chosen faith. And so I write for Examiner.com to express the passion of my mother heart to a diverse audience.
Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and speaker on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber powered world. She is a mother of two grown sons, the author of The Authority In Me: The Power of Family Life in the Network Culture, produces The Sacramento Cyber Safety Examiner column on Examiner.com, and is the CyberParenting advisor on The Fish 103.9FM. Her new book, A Google World in the Garden of Eden: Five Family-Safe Strategies for Texting and Social Media is now available for PC and all eReader formats including Kindle, Nook, iPad.