Lindsey was 15 years old and a cheerleader in school. She was smart and consistently got good grades. Although socially active, Lindsey had an active online life as well. Most evenings while doing homework, Lindsey would log on to her favorite social networking site and chat with one particular friend, Donna. She was always careful not to give personal information such as her address, what school she went to, or even her last name. Lindsey’s parents had discussed cyber safety with her, and she was a good girl.
One day when she arrived home from school, Lindsey was surprised to see her father’s car in the driveway. Concerned, she went inside to find her parents in the living room talking with a strange man. When her parents saw Lindsey enter they called her in to introduce her, stating that he was a detective from the state cyber crime unit.
The detective explained that he was Lindsey’s friend “Donna” and had posed as a teen girl in various chat rooms trying to catch predators. He also worked with schools and other organizations to teach online safety. As he came to realize Lindsey was who she said she was, he also realized she was giving away a lot of information. He told Lindsey and her parents some of the clues she had given, such as telling what teams her school was competing against, what the school mascot was, and that she was a cheerleader. From that, a simple internet search led him to the school’s web site and social media site. He had actually followed her home from school a couple of times to learn where she lived. Before he left, he admonished Lindsey and her parents to be more vigilant in what information is given out online, and to whom.
Yes, this story is an urban legend. It never actually happened, although it very easily could. Many social media sites let people enter addresses, phone numbers, and other contact information. Cell phones allow instant uploads of photos and status updates. It’s easy to post something without even thinking about it only to regret it later. It’s even easier to share private photos or videos with someone only to have them spread around.
There are a few things parents can do to help keep their children safe. First, and possibly the most obvious, is to talk to their children about possible dangers. Set guidelines for what is and what is not permissible. Connecting the parent’s account to the child’s account can also help parents monitor the child’s activity. Second, parents should be more active in the lives of their children and talk to them about what is going on in their lives. Third, and possibly most important, is that parents should learn to trust their children. Teens especially are capable of proving they are trustworthy when given the chance, but even Tweens and pre-teens can do this. It is difficult to let go, but it is necessary for a child to grow.