By Michelle Wysocki
Recently, in a quest to arm myself with the most knowledge possible, I typed, “Keeping Kids Safe on the Internet” into my Google search engine. I was presented with a variety of options; however, none for the exact topic that I was seeking. Many of the choices were related to teaching kids about how to be safe while using the Internet. While this is valuable information, I was looking for something a little less related to my child’s use and more related to mine.
At two, my child has not yet mastered using the computer, but nonetheless, thanks to his adoring mother, there are pictures of him on the Internet. They exist on my Facebook page and chronicle various stages of his growth and development. There are newborn pictures, pictures of him eating rice cereal for the first time, pictures of his first birthday party, and other images capturing various milestones. I have great fun with it and I enjoy sharing all the steps along the way with family and friends. While these postings seem innocuous and harmless, I worry that they are posing a safety risk for him that I had not previously considered.
Through the wonders of social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Blogs), it is now possible for random, and possibly dangerous, strangers to know vital pieces of information about our children without our knowledge or consent. They could know a child’s name, their face, relative age, and relative location- all without ever talking to, or even meeting the child or their parents. Even more alarming is the fact that this information is not being provided by the child themselves, but rather their parents, grandparents, and other various family members. Although safety concerns exist anytime a child’s picture appears in a public forum, the Internet has provided easier access to information by a broader public. Personally, I like Facebook because of the opportunity it provides to stay in touch with my loved ones who live in other cities and states; however, even with the highest security settings, it is still possible for people I do not know to access my page, pictures, and information. Most of these individuals would not harm my family, but what about the small percentage that would? Though this question could keep me up at night, I have decided that the best thing to do is to confront my fears, shake off the nerves, and come up with a plan.
There is no way to participate in social media without creating some sort of safety issue, however slight. My protective instinct is to cancel my Facebook account, never Blog about my family, and discontinue my Internet use altogether. Somehow, I do not think this is a good solution, though it is an understandable reaction. I compare it to driving: I could quit driving for fear of getting in an accident, but then it would be difficult to get anywhere. Instead, the best course of action must be to proceed with caution. I will teach “Stranger Danger” to my son as soon as possible so he understands to treat all strangers with caution. I will limit the pictures and information about him that I post online. I will research all the social media websites I use so I fully understand the use and limitations of a site’s privacy settings. Though that might not keep out professional hackers, it will provide some security and one more roadblock to information that I would rather keep private. The Internet can be a scary place. It can also be a fun and exciting place. The best I can do is to understand how it is both, and understand how to navigate my family through all the twists and turns.