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Sunday Morning with Rania: Kids, Privacy and their Online Usage - What Every Parent Must Consider

Rania Mankarious
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Sunday Mornings with RaniaYou’ve probably heard what happened to a local 13-year-old girl who received and responded to private Instagram messages sent to her through a celebrity Instagram account she was following. Thinking that she was talking to a Luke Bryan representative, the teen was invited to a “private” meeting with the singer. All she needed to do was provide his representative with (surprise, surprise) her full name and address.

Screenshots of the messages were shared over and over again as the mom of the local teen had a clear message: parents, be aware and talk to your children. The child in this case was not harmed as her father and aunt (both local officers) repeatedly shared the importance of not sharing personal information and protecting yourself online. 

All that said, as much as we talk to our children, they still engage in messages and conversations or walk into traps they are not equipped to handle. This case brings the conversation one step further. We talk to our children but: 

  1. Should parents monitor their kids’ online activity or respect their privacy? 
  2. Should parents have their kids’ passwords to their phones/accounts? 

If you’re a parent, you’ll understand why I say the answer to both these questions is YES. Always.  

For parents to truly monitor, they need true access. But what about a child’s right to privacy? 

Solution

  • Always, always, always have access to your children’s accounts. Always. Now, it’s up to you how often you will check these accounts and under what context, but you must always have access. 
  • Some Say Kids Deserve Privacy. Absolutely. I agree, our kids deserve privacy and should expect a certain amount of privacy when it comes to their diaries, phone calls, etc. I also agree that kids should be taught right from wrong and, at some point, we need to show them trust and respect. I agree. 
  • But the Online World is Different. When it comes to the digital world, a world where anything goes and everyone is connected, a world that exposes children to situations and people they are not mature enough or savvy enough to deal with – the privacy argument is no longer about the child and whether or not you trust them but about protecting children from things they are unable to protect themselves from. A minor’s right to privacy (based on trust or whatever else) is a flawed argument in this space and only gives a predator (who will invest time learning about your child, following your child, building connections to your child as well as invest money to get to your child) the advantage. A predator’s biggest wish is that you keep your nose out of your child’s online life and are thrilled you see it as a privacy issue. 

Remember, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you live, the online world forces all of us into a new reality.  

Reality Check #1: Kids live online. 

Reality Check #2. Predators Do Too. 

  • The numbers support what we already know. Children live their lives online. Predators know this and live there too. We also know the real numbers are higher when it comes to the number of children who are approached by an unknown person online. 
  • The risks are real. One in five U.S. teenagers who regularly log on to the Internet says they have received an unwanted sexual solicitation via the Web. A warning issued just last week urges parents to take caution as a rising number of predators try to lure children away through the number one game, Fortnite.  

Reality Check #3. Parents Must Recognize and Respond. 

Solution

  • For any parent to say that they have given their child a phone or online access and simply “trust them” is – in all honesty – a glaring oversight and lack of parenting. We must understand the risks, dangers and do everything in our power to keep our kids safe online. Denying a child access is not necessarily a solution either. They will find a way around it and they will be left on the platform without your supervision. 
  • It’s a terrible reality but in the unimaginable case that your child was to go missing, the very first thing law enforcement or any private investigator hired will want is access to your child’s online accounts. It is often only through access to these platforms that children are recovered.
  • Talk to your children often, openly and honestly. If you are afraid that the conversation will scare your child, then he/she is not old enough to have a smartphone or any access to online platforms. It’s a must-have conversation. 
  • Think about what monitoring means for your family and explain that to your child. You trust them and respect their privacy but that, for their safety, you must have passwords and access to all their accounts. This will look different in each family. Some families will choose to ask for passwords, other parents will make sure they have fingerprint access to their kid’s phones/accounts so a changed password doesn’t jeopardized their access. Some parents do this without telling their children too. That’s a conversation for each parent to have and you know what’s best. 
  • Get educated. Crime Stoppers of Houston offers FREE seminars on a Parents Guide to Social Media and Gaming. Please call us to take this free class: 713-521-4600.  
  • Have rules for social media. What accounts are allowed? What accounts are not allowed? What things must they bring to your attention? What are the rules for accepting followers? 
  • Free Space. Give them free space to communicate with friends via simple text messaging but have pre-approved contacts where they can text and communicate freely with their friends. 

If you really follow this topic, you’ll see that every single day a story breaks where a child is either lured away or potentially lured away by an online predator. When it comes to monitoring your child’s online access, it’s not a privacy issue, it is a public safety issue. Think of it this way: if you were to send your 13-year-old to Europe, alone, wouldn’t you want to know their whereabouts at all times? While you may be thinking – I’d never send my teen alone to Europe, we do something similar when we give them online access to the world wide web, alone. You need to be able to have access to them and that world at all times. Please, let’s all agree to monitor our kids’ accounts and let’s agree that access is the new norm. We will do whatever we must to let predators know we understand their strategies and will protect our children at all costs. They deserve and will appreciate this protection. 

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