In the Age of Technology, I think that nothing really “dates” you as much as your tech savvy skills. I can never get over how fast my niece and nephews are with their web expertise, or how much I learn from them. I remember being in middle school when news about email was going around as a rumor! It is fascinating how fast kids make technology their own quite simply because in some form or another, technology is their life. While this has advantages galore, it also puts children in a kind of risk we cannot even imagine. But we have to.
When I was in college, we had just started texting, sending friends small “notes” during the day, maybe coordinate skipping a class here or there. These days, young kids have taken texting to a whole other level and it is called “sexting”: sending naked or sexually explicit images of yourself on text. As shocking as it may sound the first time you hear of it, when you think about the amount of sex being bombarded to kids, the worship of celebrity culture in their lives, sending nude images of themselves to their boyfriends would only seem natural.
As recently as last month, pop icon Rihanna stated that if you did not send naked pictures of yourself to your boyfriend, aka sexting, she felt bad for him. The singer’s statement is a serious reflection of how common and popular sexting has become.
But what is really scary about this kind of technology use is that it creates excellent breeding grounds for child predators, such as pedophiles and sex offenders, to prey on kids. Just think about how dangerous the internet is even for adults. We have to constantly be on guard against identity theft, bank fraud etc.
Think about how easy the internet is to find anything, especially things sexual in nature. Then think about how easy it is to find a child on the internet. All you really need is a screen name and you can start to create an entirely new identity online. The whole “cyberbullying” and “sexting” culture is so new that there is not even clear legislation to safeguard kids. If you are feeling scared, you should be.
Last year, my friend’s boss had a nephew who had an abnormally high cell phone bill. His father did the math and figured that his kid pretty much had to be on the phone all day and all night. Turns out the kid pretty much was. But who was he spending all this time talking on the phone to? A sexual predator in another State. Imagine that. In his home, under the watchful eyes of his parents.
While businesses around the country are crashing and closing, entrepreneurs are making a business out of safeguarding kids from online child predators. Netnanny and Mobile Watchdog both provide some degree of online monitoring for your kids, but nothing is as comprehensive as this new company called KidSafe.
KidSafe is a mobile phone service that gives parents a “bird’s eye view of what is going on in their child’s digital world, with a focus on social networks and the mobile phone.” The company also uses data mining to specifically “identify for parents the things that they are most concerned with- risky activities, risky connections and developing threats to their child’s safety.”
If it sounds a bit like stalking, well it kind of is. Every time suspicious language or behavior is picked up by the phone application, parents are notified. For instance, if your child gets a text that contains words like “sex” or “drugs,” the parent is alerted.
The KidSafe application also includes a “Text Lingo” dictionary which defines words teenagers may use that parents may not know the meaning of such as “LMIRL” (let’s meet in real life), or “hook up.”
This may sound like a major invasion of your kid’s privacy, but how else can parents really know who their kids are talking to, or worse yet, who is trying to talk to their kids? I think a few years ago something like this would have been out of the question. But the truth now is that we cannot afford to take any chances.
When I was in fourth grade, I had a teacher that I really did not care much for. But my closest friend at the time had a detestation for him that was so strong, it was baffling for my nine year old mind. I never understood where her anger towards him came from. By the time I graduated from high school, that teacher had been accused of child molestation by a slew of his young female students.
I think about what technology like KidSafe would have done in preventing a man like that to be able to prey on little girls. It makes me think that any clue, any hint we can provide parents that there may be someone trying to harm their child is worth the early intervention. The internet is too big and too wide to control. You have to do what you can on your end because seriously, what is the alternative?
* This post of mine was also published on The Huffington Post.