Teens and Tweens Talking To Strangers Online: What Every Parent Needs To Know
By Robyn Shulman, M.Ed.
Do you remember the days when a police officer came to your school to discuss stranger danger? Stranger danger today can have various meanings; including, but not limited to: people we know and believe we can trust, people we don’t know in real life, and the strangers who sit behind computer screens, faceless and nameless. All of these strangers pose great concern as parents. Parents have a responsibility to talk with their children, to ask questions and to remind them of the basic dangers they can face, both online and offline. It is also the job of parents to keep a close eye on what their children are doing online-especially with all of the free applications out there that are simple gateways for predators.
I’m not sure of a time when it was most concerning and even confusing to be a parent. The digital age has brought great differences and challenges. Today, parents have two worlds to manage in order to keep their kids safe-real life and digital life. Quite often, many parents are simply unaware as to what their kids are doing online, feel they are too busy to check, technology may move too quickly, and/or some parents simply underestimate the inherit risks. These two worlds move faster than we can keep up, and merge in ways we could have never imagined.
Taking action: please, check your child’s social media interactions on a consistent basis.
Before the school year began, I wrote an article entitled: 5 Apps Parents Should Know About Before Kids Head Back To School. As there are so many apps out there, I thought these 5 (Yik Yak, Ask.fm, Kik Messenger, Snapchat and Vine) would be the most important to mention at the time.
However, today, one app that has come to my attention is called Omegle. Recently, a technology expert told Fox 9 News that this site is among the most dangerous out there when it comes to kids and online safety.
Why? It is simply because the application’s slogan is: Omegle: Talk to Strangers!
Omegle is an application that encourages stranger engagement online.
According to this news report by KMSP, last Monday, two teenage girls were reported missing from Andover, Minnesota.
On Tuesday, they were found in the basement of a home, with someone from the education world, Casey Lee Chinn. Chinn serves as a volleyball coach at Christo Rey Jesuit High School in Minneapolis.
According to Fox 9 News, police found the girls crying and “huddled behind a couch” in the basement of a high school Chinn’s home in Burnsville, Minn. Possibly, one of the most odd parts of this story is that Chinn allegedly had the girls in the basement because he lived with his parents who were upstairs the entire time.
Chinn, the volleyball coach, met the girls on Omegle. He is 23 years old and is now charged with 6 counts of criminal sexual conduct, kidnapping and solicitation.
I decided to pull the site up for myself, and this is what I found:
Omegle’s site states the following:
Omegle is a great way to meet new friends. When you use Omegle, we pick someone else at random and let you talk one-on-one. To help you stay safe, Omegle keeps you anonymous unless you tell someone who you are (not suggested!), and you can stop a chat at any time.
If you prefer, you can add your interests, and Omegle will look for someone who’s into some of the same things as you instead of someone completely random.
Please talk with your kids about the dangers of online contacts, connections and social apps. Watch what they are doing. Most teenagers and tweens have no idea about sexual predators online-looking exactly for this type of scenario.
Why do teens take risks online? According to the article, The Teen Brain: It’s Just Not Grown Up written by Richard Knox, the teenage brain is not fully grown.
Teenage Brains Are Different
The most important thing to keep in mind is that it’s not so much what teens are thinking — it’s how.
According to Neurologist Francis Jensen, scientists used to think human brain development was pretty complete by age 10.
But it’s not. To begin with, she says, a crucial part of the brain — the frontal lobes — are not fully connected.
“It’s the part of the brain that says: ‘Is this a good idea? What is the consequence of this action?’ ” Jensen says. “It’s not that they don’t have a frontal lobe, and they can use it. However, they are going to access it more slowly.”
Why? According to Jensen, “Because the nerve cells that connect teenagers’ frontal lobes with the rest of their brains are sluggish. Teenagers don’t have as much of the fatty coating called myelin, or white matter, that adults have in this area.”
Definitely something to think about…..
Every application has a risk. Since the brains of teenagers are not fully developed; many times they do not have the capacity to understand the risks and dangers they are potentially facing. Also, social media is something they are growing up with, it is so innately comfortable to them; they don’t think twice, it is in their comfort zone.
The most important thing to do is to talk with your kids, be aware and monitor their social media behavior. It may seem challenging and overwhelming to manage these double worlds, however, these are our children. Every ounce of energy is worth it.
Are you keeping an eye your child’s social media habits and connections? Are you talking to them about safety? Please share your ideas with others.