Between chat rooms, video games and social media, it’s easier than ever before to meet people online. It’s just as easy for kids, too. In fact, meeting friends online is sometimes easier for kids than seeking out in-person relationships.
What should you do if you discover your child has formed a relationship with someone neither they nor you have ever met in person?
I think Paul Weinberg said it best in his book “The I Factor”: “Electronic communication is a medium that encourages intimacy by allowing you to reveal thoughts and feelings that you might not share with anyone else or that you might not be comfortable expressing face-to-face.”
But what if that person is secretly an adult? What if they are a predator? It’s important that you talk with your kids about the rules of online relationships.
What You Can Do
First of all, explain the difference between meeting someone online and meeting someone in person. They are different, and it’s important that your child understand that in order to fully comprehend the dangers of establishing relationship online.
Electronic communications create a false sense of intimacy and security. It’s far too easy to become swept up in this virtual relationship. Your child is projecting a fantasy, one where this online stranger “really gets them.” It will be challenging to convince them otherwise once that relationship is established, so prevention is key.
If your child met a scary adult in person, they’d know immediately that it wasn’t a good idea to make friends. The fact is, they could be talking to the same scary person online right now. Be sure your child understands that just because their new friend may have a photo of someone their own age, talk like someone their age, or even share the same interests, it doesn’t mean that they are actually a kid.
Kids should be taught to never give out their address, full name or phone number. They should also never anyone they’ve met online what school they attend. If their new “friend” ever uses inappropriate language with them or tries to establish a sexual relationship, your child needs to know that it’s not okay.
Even if you think they know all of this information, it’s important that you talk to them and ensure they are following the rules of online relationships.