Internet Safety: The Teen Brain Phenomenon is Real

I was absolutely floored last week when my son mentioned he’d given out his cell phone number on the internet. We’d recently had the conversation about the dangers lurking on the web when I presented a program on internet safety to our middle school—so my brain couldn’t wrap itself around the fact that he blatantly went against the number one rule in our house for using the internet: NO PERSONAL INFORMATION is to be given out for ANY reason!

I was furious. I raised my voice in a manner reserved for serious offenses and felt panic well up inside my body. What would have possessed him to be so careless? What part of “grooming” (a term we’d discussed) did he not understand? (Grooming is when a predator will pretend to be whatever sex or age he needs to be in order to lure a child into trusting him so the child will reveal personal information.) I took a deep breath and sat my son down for a long talk about how serious this situation could be.

This time, I was very specific about what can happen when personal information is revealed to someone he doesn’t know. He was in a popular game room for younger children and told me he knew this person was a girl his age from England. I asked him, “How do you know she is from England?”

“She told me she is. She gave me her phone number too.”

“You didn’t call or text her, did you?”

“No,” he answered with trepidation. The cell phone issue is an entirely different beast we’ll save for another day. In the meantime, I was flabbergasted that he took what this person said as fact. “How do you know this person is who she says she is?”

“Mom, who’s going to be on the site other than kids anyway?” I wanted to scream. He went on to say, “I didn’t give her my name or any other information.”

I was puzzled at how he wasn’t connecting that if he creates false user information, what makes him think these other people aren’t too? I said, suggesting we watch an internet safety DVD from the organization Enough Is Enough which has real, heart-wrenching stories about children his age who shared his naivety.

I became very specific about the types of things that can happen to kids his age and reiterated why I am so very serious about the rules involving the internet. I am more than willing to be flexible when I need to be, but not in this situation.

From there, we talked about the dangers that exist everywhere, even in our community. He had a hard time believing that because we live in a neighborhood filled with families. I said, “Let me show you.” He looked at my wide eyed and asked, “How can you find out?”

“There’s a website John Walsch started called Family Watch Dog which shows the location of all registered offenders.” We pulled up the site, typed in our zip code and up popped a handful of offenders. He was surprised. I showed him where they lived, where they worked and further explained how they could show up in someone’s life. He finally understood why mom is always so concerned about where they go, with whom, and why I need to know at all times. Several times throughout the rest of the day, he apologized. We didn’t even have to speak about it further. At this point, he knew how I felt.

I have to reflect on the reality that he is young and his brain is not as developed as I sometimes like to think it is and therefore he sometimes excercises poor judgment. I remember his preschool teachers telling me how they treated him as though he was older, because he seemed so mature for his age. Children are so innocent they just trust and believe what people tell them, even if they’re noticeably aware and intuitive like my son. I would never have guessed he would give out personal information on the internet, especially because of how open and communicative we are with one another, but the reality is he did and thank goodness I was able to sit him down and paint an unfortunate, but realistic picture. For now, he understands, but his brain will undoubtedly lapse again and we will have to repeat the process.

Remember your children aren’t capable of managing all of what they are dealt and need your guidance to be constantly reminded of the dangers they have to be aware of. In this instance, I needed to instill some fear to drive home the seriousness of the issue. Safety is the number one thing we have to ensure to protect our kids. I know I did!

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