If you’ve ever handed a smartphone or tablet to a toddler who just wouldn’t quiet down or found yourself trying to regulate the amount of time your children spend online, you know that the digital lives of children are in equal measure a profound source of promise and peril.
While questions about screen time are a perennial favorite topic when it comes to children, and in no way trivial, there are some much darker issues that merit discussion, but seldom make it through the din that makes the digital world such a treacherous place for young people.
#3: Increased Risk of Abduction
Everyone overshares on social media, but when children post too much about themselves online it can be dangerous. The line between oversharing and regular sharing is of course blurry, but when it comes to children we all need to err on the side of caution.
The hallmarks of oversharing aren’t necessarily as obvious as it might first seem. Sure, we don’t all need to see what our hyper social friends are eating and drinking updated on an hourly basis, and there are only so many perfectly baked loaves of sourdough bread you can see before you cheat on your diet. But oversharing–the dangerous kind–involves a different criteria. We want to look for geographically identifiable images, location tags, even geolocation tags (the invisible metadata that are a default setting on many smartphones)–in short, anything that might tell a viewer where to find the person behind a social media account.
The FBI has warned about child abductors monitoring social media networks and platforms to initiate contact with potential victims. This isn’t an esoteric or uncommon threat. There is nothing clever about this post. It’s important, actionable information.
What you can do about it: Talk to your children in real terms about the dangers they may face online and set some hard and fast rules about contact with strangers. Some families insist on knowing passwords to accounts. And talk about those other accounts too–the FikFoks and Finstas where children post the real stuff. And a piece of advice: just tell them to make sure they know everyone with access to those hidden accounts. While minors don’t enjoy the same Constitutional rights as adults, they will take evasive maneuvers in the face of fear-driven restriction. Keep the lines of communication open, and monitor what you can as much as you can.