"Stranger Danger" in a digital age

Playground safety and safety from so-called “stranger danger” are top priorities for most parents, but in the 21st century lessons in safety on virtual platforms is becoming increasingly important.

“Today is all about how children and students can use technology to its fullest, but at the same time they need to know what’s a risk and what’s not,” says Katie Koestner, director at Campus Outreach Services.

Koestner gave several talks at the Stanley Clark School in South Bend to students about how to stay safe and secure on the Internet.

Research indicates there are about 50,000 predators online at any given moment in the U.S. According to Koestner, those predators aren’t just targeting children for sexual predation; many are thieves stealing intellectual property or seeking safe financial data.

“Kids are really gateways to vulnerabilities,” Koestner explained, “which our families may or may not realize.”

Children are most at-risk for different types of online predation. The age group starts at five-years-old—the age when most children tend to first use digital devices—and spans through the age of twelve for boys. For girls, the targeted demographic ranges from middle school to high school.

Koestner said that many parents’ concerns about revealing personal information can have adverse effects on their children. She explained that some parents tell their sons and daughters to use fake names online instead of their real names, which can actually hurt children’s sense of identity and hinder development.

“So it’s really important that parents teach their kids to use one consistent name all the time,” said Koestner. As long as parents monitor their child’s online behavior, establish limits on which sites are safe and when they can use the internet and have access to passwords, Koestner says the internet is safe to use.

One of the points Koestner made sure to highlight when talking to the Stanley Clark School was the footprints left behind whenever something is posted or sent online. Every time someone posts an image online, photo recognition software can be used to scan that image and determine the individual’s identity.

But the students at Stanley Clark already seemed well-versed in Internet safety. Many said they adhered to regulated computer use at home and at school, and were aware that what they send and say online can never truly be deleted.

Stanley Clark student, Kayla Graham, summed it all up perfectly: “first, always do safe things on the internet, second, never give out any personal information, and be very careful because anyone can track your location.”

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