Last week I spent over 10 hours in the car driving to North Carolina with my family I learned a lot. Even as a mom who spends her professional time watching others with a suspicious eye, I realized how little I really know about how my teenage son spends his time on line. Just when I thought I had it – a Facebook page, an Instagram account, and a twitter handle, I’m out of date. New apps continuously appear, each one offering new platforms complete with a fresh set of risks for young, unassuming kids with Internet access.
Now I’m aware that what is new to my 13 year old may be old news to those of you with 16 year olds. But that’s the point; we have to keep up with what is new and popular to them. Because whatever their age, it is just too damn easy to get to our kids in ways that, while seemingly harmless, are actually a pedophile’s playground.
It was Chatroulette that sparked my interest on our trip. There are many versions of this type of video chat, and I’m only focusing on Chatroulette because that is what my son was using. Simply stated, Chatroulette is video chatting with random people, and like Roulette, you don’t who you’re going to get. The site really markets to kids and tries to reel them in offering anonymity:
You can remain anonymous and yet have a splendid time
You don’t have to disclose your identity or any other personal information to the person you are chatting with.
Sounds safe enough to the unassuming teen. But get real, how is it anonymous when that person sees who you are? Your picture can be shared, snap chatted, or posted for everyone to see even if you end the call.
Ah…but that’s not even the really scary part. Chatroulette is also safe for the weirdo trying to remain anonymous. It boasts there are no registration formalities, everyone has free access, and they don’t use methods of verification such as SMS codes.
Some adult or even another teen with a “special interest” in teenagers, boy or girl, can get on the site, spin the wheel until they find someone who whets their appetite, and chat with them. He/she can even get them to sing, dance, and yes people, take off their clothes. All while they are watching. And, remember while it claims to be anonymous, it is possible for a snapshot of the video to be captured and saved for later. Perhaps while your teen’s personal voyeur settles in for some more private entertainment. Unknowingly, your child can become a personal lap dance for some sleaze roaming the Internet.
I know it sounds sick, but I see this kind of behavior every day. I will admit that being overly suspicious is an unavoidable job hazard for a private detective. Every day I work to uncover the sinister side of situations, many of them under the category of you can’t make this stuff up!
But don’t shoot the messenger on this one. This is serious stuff and we, as parents need to be aware and vigilant of what our kids are doing on line. We have come to understand that the Internet is a part of their social life, but accepting this fact doesn’t give us a free pass from getting to know their world. Instead, it makes it critical to visit the sites they are using regularly. Treat their computer, tablet, or phone, as a friend you are determined to get to know. I know they may not like it and tell you it’s not necessary. They don’t know best. You do. You’re their parents. Make it simple for them. Getting to know this friend and what they do together is a condition of the friendship.
End of story.
You’ll be happier and they’ll be safer.