These days it’s not only in-person “stranger danger” parents need to worry about. It’s also coming in the online variety. A new study by the Center for Cyber Safety and Education found that 40% of kids in grades 4-8 surveyed admitted to talking to a stranger online. If that’s not enough, consider this:
- 53% Gave their phone number to a stranger
- 30% Texted a stranger from their phone
- 15% Tried to meet a stranger
Patrick Craven, Director of the Center for Cyber Safety and Education, tells Parentology the most alarming part of the study is the number of children that talk to strangers online.
While some of those strangers may have been peers they were talking to through online gaming or social media, it’s enough to have any parent concerned and looking for ways to educate and protect their child. And, of course, when children talk and give out personal information, even making arrangements to meet in person, they’re putting themselves and their family in danger.
“They’re too young to understand the person they are talking to online might be deceiving them,” Craven says. He points out there’s no way of knowing if the stranger online is really a peer or an adult pretending to be their friend.
What Can Parents Do to Protect Their Children From Online Stranger Danger?
Education is the key to protect your child from strangers online. The Center for Cyber Safety and Education found that 48% of the children surveyed have a computer in their bedroom, 70% have a cellphone, while 64% have a tablet.
With so many children having access to the internet, the conversation needs to start as soon as they get online.
“It’s not enough to set up parental control, although it helps,” Craven says. “Children need to learn about the consequences of talking to a stranger online, of giving them their phone number, of visiting an unsecured site or clicking on the wrong link.”
Be open and honest about online stranger danger. If you think they’re old enough to use the internet, they should be old enough to hear about the dangers that exist.
If your child plays online games, Craven suggests playing with them to get familiar with who else is online and how the system works. You can also “friend” or “follow” your kids on social media to keep an eye on what they’re doing.
Besides becoming familiar with your child’s online activity, ask questions about who they’re interacting with online, just as you would ask about who they’re with at school.
Your child needs to feel comfortable talking to you if someone is bothering them online. Craven suggests having your child play games or interacting online in the living room or common area at home so you observe what’s going on.
While some parents may consider taking away all devices to protect their children, many experts shy away from that and advise education above all.
Craven emphasizes, “It’s our responsibility to ensure children learn how to be responsible digital citizens.”