First off, I make no apology for the image used for this post. It’s taken from the website Child Sex Tourism, which aims to combat the child sex slave trade and, while this post is slightly different in approach, I think it reflects the importance of it well.
My friend Doug Haslam wrote a great post the other day on what it means to be a dad in the social media space. Doug’s a communications guy at Voce Communications, so knows the ins-and-outs of how social media and social networking work as well as the next guy.
In his post, Doug tells of his son turning thirteen, and why Doug and his wife won’t let him have a Facebook account any time soon, even though (legally) Doug’s son is now old enough to do so.
The post and subsequent comments are excellent, and open up a very important topic – what privacy do you give your kids, and what do you make open to the public gaze?
It’s a topic that DJ Waldow covered recently as well, when he blogged about his decision to make his baby’s social media accounts and blog private. Since DJ’s daughter’s birth, both he and his wife have been using social tools to share updates and growth spurts about DJ’s daughter. No more.
And it’s something we all need to take time out and think about if we’re parents.
Who Are Your Friends?
The beauty of social media and social networking is that it’s allowed us to connect with people we would never have known about otherwise. These online relationships can then turn to business colleagues, clients, blog readers or, best of all, friends.
It doesn’t matter about location – a single tweet or Facebook status update can cover thousands of miles in an instant. Because of this, conversations are easy and friendships and connectivity can become as easy as simply putting your fingers to a keyboard.
And there’s the problem.
Because we strike up friendships, we often don’t take enough time to really think about the person behind the persona. We take them at face and tweet value, and only worry about them breaking that connection through a poor choice of words or actions.
We don’t think what they could really be like. And we could be opening up our children to anyone if we share them too easily with our online friends. According to stats from parental control company Sentry PC:
- One in five U.S. teenagers who regularly log on to the web have received unwanted sexual advances.
- 75% of children are willing to share private information about themselves in exchange for goods or services.
- 25% of children have been exposed to unwanted pornographic material online.
There are more stats like that for other countries, but it gives you an idea of how children are vulnerable online. But that’s for kids that are online. Let’s take that part away just for a moment, and think about the reason this post is being written.
Friends or Fiends?
Let’s say you share a picture of your newborn on Facebook. It’s a common theme and one that a lot of proud parents do. Or you upload a Twitpic, or set up a Flickr group to share your child’s growth from baby to child to teenager and beyond.
Seems harmless, and it’s a great way to share a visual history with friends and family, right? Now think about this.
That same, harmless photograph you uploaded is downloaded by one of your online friends, who’s also a pedophile or child sex predator. He or she (women are just as guilty of child sex offences as men are) download that picture to their hard drive. Then they turn to photoshop.
That innocent picture of your baby is now a not-so-innocent picture of your baby dressed in sexual attire, and that online friend of yours is using it for their own pleasure, as well as passing it onto their little circle of perverts.
You don’t know about it (obviously) and yet you continue to happily share pictures with that friend, because they’re so nice and genuine. Scary, huh? And you can bet it’s happening somewhere even as I’m typing this.
So what can you do?
Take Control of Your Friends
There are a few options available for you. Some might be right for you, some may not – the important thing is that you are aware of the choices and the potential consequences for non-action.
- Follow DJ Waldow and Doug Haslam’s example and either make it completely private or no profile/account at all.
- Restrict the share and visibility to close family only – no friends.
- If you do need to share a picture, try and have your child covered or sandwiched between parents to lessen photo manipulation.
- Research, research, research. Google for advice and parental tips on protecting your kids from sexual predators.
These are just some ideas and, to be fair, come from someone who’s not specifically experienced in this space when it comes to predators and protection. I’m also aware that a lot of child abuse comes from within the family, sadly, and we all need to be vigilant for this.
Online, however, it’s harder to gauge so, as a parent, I know what I would share – which is nothing to very little. Sometimes your personal life is just that, or at least some parts of it are. Yet I also know other parents are keen to take a ton of pictures of their children and want to share.
Again, nothing wrong with that. Just ask yourself who you’re really sharing with, especially when child pornography and sexual images are key factors in the step up to sex trafficking and child prostitution.
It’s the least you can do for your kids, no?