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How relevant is ’don't talk to strangers’ advice to protect children online?

Cristina POPOV

May 21, 2018

How relevant is ’don't talk to strangers’ advice to protect children online?

As part of our survival kit, we were all equipped with ”don’t talk to strangers” advice when we were young. Growing up in an offline world meant acknowledging that not all people have the best intentions, so it’s better to avoid those we didn’t know. Stories like Pinocchio and Little Red Riding Hood taught us what could happen if we interacted with strangers. As a consequence, we didn’t. When the time to pass on this valuable advice to our kids came, we may discover it may not be relevant, at least not for the digital world.

A Bitdefender study (”Teens and online Threats, December 2017) shows that 7 out of 10 teens have unknown persons in their online friends’ lists, while 7 out of 10 of those who have “strangers” as online friends chat with them online.

Numbers vary, from 16% of interviewed children who have more than 50 unknown persons on their friends’ list to 26% who have less than 5 and 26% who have none. But the fact is that 70% of those who have strangers on their lists, chat with them online.

So, it’s time to assume that kids will do this anyway, no matter what we tell them. But still, what can we do to protect them? Teaching them the safest ways to communicate online, what risky behaviors to avoid and what warning signs to spot seems the best solution.

Instead of repeating the message ‘don’t talk to strangers online,’ here is what we could say to them to be more effective:

I know many young people your age are meeting people online. You probably know how easy it is to hide or lie about identity online. Take care when chatting with strangers, they may not be who they pretend to be.

Don’t share private/ personal information with anyone online, be it friend or stranger.

If someone asks to meet you, please tell me, so we can see together if you are safe.

Don’t send anyone revealing photos or videos with you. Imagine how you would feel if those were posted online where anyone can see them.

If anyone says or sends you anything that makes you feel uncomfortable, tell me.

Yes, it’s more complicated, but a nuanced approach could be more useful and efficient.

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