When I was growing up, there were two admonitions repeated over and over: “Look both ways before you cross the street,” and “Don’t talk to strangers.” We were allowed to wander farther from home in those days, but with those two rules, our parents felt we would be safe.
As soon as the weather turned nice, we were out on our bikes, and each day was a new adventure. It was fun to find new neighborhoods, and to explore the nearby ravines. There were always two or three of us, and much as we were having fun, we were aware of our own safety. If we even thought there was a stranger nearby, we would flee.
When did it all change? Somehow, the internet has made it acceptable for children to talk to strangers. Parents may have a false illusion that their children are safer in the family room on the computer, than out around the neighborhood.
My concern is not only about serious incidents where an adult tries to set up a meeting with a child or adolescent. It is also about loss of innocence. Once someone has made sexually explicit suggestions to your young son or daughter over the internet, those cannot be erased from their consciousness. A child can easily be fooled by someone pretending to be their age.
My other concern is about children becoming accustomed to sharing a lot about themselves with people they have never even met and know nothing about. When they are older and out in the world, they may, consequently, be less discerning about who they hook up with.
My advice? Do not allow your children to use chat rooms, or to communicate with people they have not met. Encourage them to get out and get involved in activities where they meet actual people who can be real, as opposed to cyber friends. They need fresh air, sunshine, exercise and social interaction, not hours in front of a computer screen.
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