Friday, November 15, 2013

Cyber Safety isn't effective...my personal experience

Today as I was renewing my domain name I realized I hadn't blogged since August. Yep, three months ago. I always say I am going to get better at it, but somehow I always forget.. Or get busy... Or forget...

Lately I have been doing Cyber Safety presentations at schools in my area. Most schools are small and rural with students that are a bit more innocent than kids in bigger cities. They are wide-eyed and amazed when we talk about digital footprints, online predators, and cyberbullying. The teachers are even more amazed by some of the things I share. Growing up today is so different than growing up 20+ years ago. The internet wasn't available until I was in college and typing on typewriters was still a class at my high school back then.

As a parent, I recently had my first frightening online experience due to the choices of my child.

When you have teenagers and your cell phone bill has jumped $50+ in a month, it is their line you look at for the overage, right? Well my middle school daughter had a big bill a month ago and the charges were for international texting. After a call to my service provider and hours of research on their part, we discovered the texts were going to Canada. Apparently, she had started playing Minecraft with a teenage boy from Canada and they texted for a period of time.

 Uhm, OK?!? What was she thinking?!?

So, was she not listening when I told her like a million times not to share personal information online (like her phone number)?!? And did she sleep through all of the cyber safety lessons she has attended at her school? Just because he looks like a 14 year old boy on Instagram doesn't mean he really is a 14 year old boy. The only thing we know for sure is that he is in Canada because I have the cell phone bill to prove it!

This experience makes me question the effectiveness of internet safety education. Teenagers seem to think it will never happen to them, and despite being warned by parents, teachers, counselors, police officers and other trusted adults, they make poor choices. Granted the only negative consequences in my daughter's case was her loss of her phone, her iPod, her computer privileges, etc, it could have been much worse. But once the sting of being grounded wears off, has she learned enough of a lesson not to do it again? Or will she naively give out information to a real creeper next time?

How is the best way to teach Cyber Safety and make it stick?