The Real Threat Online

Hi Folks! Wow, leave your blog for one little day and the talk turns to porn. I feel like the Free-Range Parent of a blog.

Anyway, I was in D.C. at the Family Online Safety Institute’s annual conference and it was fantastic to be among all sort of bigwigs from places like Yahoo and Disney and BT and TimeWarner, all listening to panelists putting online fear into perspective.

As far as kids go, the biggest danger online is not predators (just like predators aren’t the biggest risk off-line, either, in what we quaintly used to call the “real world”).  No, the thing I realized I have to sit down with my kids and talk about is “reputation management.”

Maybe this is blindingly obvious to everyone else, but it struck home with me: When we were young, the stupid things we did lived on maybe in our diaries. Maybe we’d hear about them again at reunions. But this generation’s stupidities do not die, they pixelate. Post a picture of yourself holding a beer — or anatomical part — and even if you think it is never going to go beyond the friend or two you sent it to, you just never know.

It’s hard to make kids think about the future impact of a dump profanity or pajama party picture.  But if we parents frame it in terms of something they’re really aiming for — a team, a scholarship, a future boyfriend or girlfriend  — they’ll take some note.

As Anne Collier, co-director of ConnectSafely.org, put it: “Kids need to be their own spin doctors now. Even ‘private’ profiles are pretty public. If your children are going to post a lot of photos of themselves and blog about innermost thoughts or gossipy stuff about friends, they need to be aware that ‘privacy’ is highly relative. Friends can copy anything kids post and paste them anywhere they want (and turn into former friends).  That means teaching our kids to do a little critical thinking about what ‘everybody’ — including school administrators, potential employers, and Grandma — would think about what they’re posting.”

…It’s after school now and I just tried doing that with my 13-year-old, by the way. It wasn’t a fun conversation, but I’m glad we had it. Along with the birds and the bees we’ve got a new topic now: Bytes.

For more sane advice about youth and tech, visit Anne’s website, NetFamilyNews.org and ConnectSafely.org. — Lenore

Family Online Safety Institute Conference

That’s where I’m at, in Washington D.C.  I’ll let you know what I find out! So far, it’s just nice being reminded that the Internet is safer than the headlines make it sound.  You know — same as the real world. Virtually.