This will be the third year in a row that I have been given an opportunity to talk with 9th graders at the local high school about Facebook, privacy, online safety, etc. It’s interesting each year because the kids confirm to me that they are more active than we adults realize and that many of them lie to their parents — or simply sidestep the truth — about their participation in the online world.
It’s certainly easier to ask modern 15yo’s to raise their hand if they’re not on Facebook than if they are, that’s for sure. Most of them also now have smartphones or at least surprisingly sophisticated cellphones that give them some limited Internet and Web access, and of course every single one of them is a texting fiend, often texting late into the night, all while us clueless ‘rents relax into our pillows, dreaming about what angels we have as children.
It ain’t so.
Still, it’s not all doom and gloom and as you’d expect if you thought about it, the biggest issue that I experience talking with these teens is that they’re clueless much more than looking for trouble. Simple observations like how your postings on Facebook can be easily shared with people you don’t know, and examples of how photos in front of houses where there’s a visible house number can in a short period be identified through Google Street View tend to make them very quiet as they rethink their usage.
And that’s good. That’s my goal. I am not a fearmonger and believe that the chance of any given child encountering a pedophile or being kidnapped or attacked because of their online usage is essentially nil. In fact, there’s a much higher risk from family members and other people that they already know from their social or academic life.
Every year, however, I also realize that there are new things that have come along that are worth discussing, particularly when I step beyond just Facebook and talk about the entire world of communication and technology.
Here’s my rough agenda for the 35 minutes I’ve been allocated:
* there’s no privacy on the Internet
* how many programs automatically add your location info (including pictures taken with smartphones)
* how tools like Google Streetview can make it easy for some creep to figure out where photos are taken
* texting and sexting (we’re debating whether to include this topic)
* some of the settings you can tweak on Facebook to make it more privacy and secure.
What am I missing? What risks and concerns do you have and what topics would you like to have raised with your own teen son or daughter in the interest of them learning how to be safe and smart as they go deeper and deeper into the online world?