Even after over three decades of involvement with young people and in education, when I learned about a website on the news over the last month or so, I was shocked and deeply concerned for our young people.
As you may remember, this website (which I would prefer not to name) encouraged people from around the world to scour the internet for inappropriate photographs of young girls and then post them on the site and name the school the girls were attending. It wasn’t just school-aged people doing the wrong thing, but also involved adults who would look for the photos of the girls (which were never intended to be seen by strangers), post them publicly and name the school they were attending as if to point blame at the school, or shame the schools because these girls attended there.
It horrifies me, and I hope you too, that anyone would think this was an okay thing to do – to publicly embarrass young girls in this way. It also horrifies me that, with everything we know about the internet, that any young girl would think she could post an inappropriate photo, or put any personal information anywhere on the web and think it was safe from prying eyes.
Nothing you put on the internet, anywhere, should be considered private. Not even if it the site promises it will be private. Even if we delete something from the internet there is no guarantee that it is actually gone.
I think this is one of the areas which falls into my five-year rule type of thinking. You may remember I wrote an article which said that parents should think about what their children will be facing five years from now and start having conversations with their children now. So, for example, if your child is 11 or 12 start talking to them about what you will expect when they are driving, about road safety from a driver’s perspective, etc.
I think it’s never too early to bring up the conversation about internet safety is. Ok, it is probably not wise to start talking to a five-year-old about posting inappropriate photos of themselves online (at least I hope it is still not necessary to do so). However, teaching them how to correctly browse the web, especially YouTube (and what clips to avoid) may be necessary if your child enjoys watching You Tube videos. And ensuring they make in-app purchases is another important conversation to have!
Conversations about internet safety, stranger danger online, the fact that personal information should not be posted on the internet etc, are also great starting points, especially for parents with older children. News stories such as this recent one provides a terrific launch point for a conversation.
Let’s keep talking with our young people about internet issues in an age appropriate way that helps them be aware of the dangers without instilling a sense of fear.