Last Spring there were 3 attempted kidnappings surrounding my children’s school. With a child in every age group – my oldest just turned 17, my youngest (a blessed surprise) just turned 1 year, and there are 2 more kiddos in between – ”stranger danger” has become the constant lesson at the Jensen home.

As a family we talk often and without hysterics about how to look out for strangers that feel unsafe, and what to do if someone they don’t know tries to pick them up. This lesson isn’t only for my “littles,” it’s also for my teen.

Anyone can set up a fake profile and pretend to be a teen and start talking to our teens.

Stranger danger is all around our kids in the cyber world. They are constantly being approached by people they don’t know as they put their entire lives on display in their social media feeds.

For some reason, even as adults, we don’t connect the real world to the cyber world. We like to post that pic of the best ice cream we’ve ever had and tag the location in real time not realizing that joe shmoe creeperton can easily track us. Our teens snap, insta post + insta story and tweet their every move tagging locations as they go.  

Stranger danger is also an issue when it comes to dm (direct messaging), snaps (snapchat direct posts), and online gaming.  

When my stepson was 14 we noticed that our normally respectful teen was suddenly reacting to us in anger over the smallest things. One night my husband told my son he had to get off the xbox for dinner and saw a text on our son’s phone from one of the kids gaming online with him that said “kill your dad.”  WHHAAAAAT?!?!?!

Kids often meet strangers online through online gaming and social media and quickly exchange phone numbers with people they will in all likelihood never meet in person or have any idea if they are who they say they are. And these strangers can wield undue influence.   

Have you seen the documentary, “Catfish” or the show “Catfish the TV Show”?

“A catfish is someone who pretends to be someone they’re not using Facebook or other social media to create false identities, particularly to pursue deceptive online romances.” – Urban Dictionary

Anyone can set up a fake profile and pretend to be a teen and start talking to our teens. On the show you see young adults who have had years and years of deep, and sometimes cyber-sexual, relationships only to find out they weren’t at all who they said they were.  

Cyberbullying is another form of stranger danger we need to protect our kids from.

As we all know, words hurt, even from strangers. “Trolls,” or people looking for the opportunity to criticize others to make themselves feel better, are rampant on the internet. When a negative comment is posted on a feed, there’s usually someone all too eager to jump on the bandwagon, and before you know it, your child may be in the middle of a full blown emotional attack.  

Social media is also how teens get the word out on parties, drug, hookups and more. If someone wants to go to a party they can scroll their social hashtags and area tags to find out what’s going on near them.

Social media has made keeping tabs on your kids extremely challenging. Remember when we would make sure that our kids were always with parents or kids that we knew and we could trust? They are just a skateboard ride away from a house of a stranger they don’t even know.

If it’s overwhelming for me, I’m betting you feel the same way. Below are three action steps you can take to keep your kids safe online.

Start with making thoughtful decisions for which social channels you will allow your child to use and how they use it.

Introduce your kids to cyber safety and educate them on the ways to keep strangers at bay. Educate your teen about online stranger danger just as you would about personal and physical safety.

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And most importantly, be involved in your kid’s online life and relationships. Just like you would at school, or through sports, get to know who your kid is talking to and how. Treat those relationships as just as valid so your teen will confide in you at the first sign of trouble.

For more guidance and support on cyber safety, check out my workshop on the basics of Social Media and Cyber Safety. View Workshops

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Now What?
3 Possible Action Steps:

1. Set up privacy settings on your child’s devices, gaming consoles and social accounts. Consider sharing social accounts so you can see their dm’s and private snaps.

2. Change your child’s photo settings on their devices to make sure they don’t have location stamps.  If your child really wants to post a location tag teach them to do it after they have been there and to not post frequently visited places. With human-trafficking being a prevalent social issue right now, please emphasize this with your kiddos.  

3. Check in on their dm’s and texts. If you notice a stranger asking personal questions, talk to your child to find out more about them. You can always reserve the right to have a video chat with this person to check them out yourself. If anything feels funny to you, cut the relationship off.  

 

Let’s Talk:

Have you encountered any cyber stranger danger yet? How did you handle it with your teen?

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