Parents often talk to their children about how to stay safe online, but most do not heed their own advice.
“There is this illusion of privacy when it comes to posting pictures of our kids online, or updating statuses about our locations,” said Marshall Jones, a program coordinator for forensic psychology at the Florida Institute of Technology.
A retired police officer, Jones said that the online realm has made parenting tougher when it comes to child safety.
“It is not just the actions of our kids we need to worry about as parents when we go online,” Jones said. “Parents need to think before they post too. Once something is out there in cyberspace, there is no way to take it back.”
Even parents with good motives can fall victim to unintended consequences online.
Melbourne resident Debra Hart has always considered herself “vigilant” when it comes to her kids’ safety on popular networking websites like Facebook, but she had two rude awakenings in the past month.
The first happened when a “friend” on Facebook was arrested in a sex sting that picked up 11 Brevard County residents in July. He is accused of soliciting a minor online.
“I have a 12-year-old daughter, and I post photos of her in her dance team outfits,” Hart said. “I take for granted that I actually know and trust the people who have access to my photos.”
The second incident happened when a Facebook page Hart believed she had simply “liked,” common for community or business pages, shared one of her posts. Hart emailed the page to figure out who was behind it since that wasn’t apparent. The page, which primarily posts inspirational quotes and photos, is set up like a personal Facebook page, which you must “friend” to access.
Jones said Hart’s experience — any uncertainty about who has access to your posts — is a good reminder for why all parents need to rethink their online certainties, especially when kids are involved.
“Don’t be in such a hurry to let the world know where you are, or what you are doing,” he said.
Jones suggests that parents turn off any GPS options for photos on their smartphones and wait until they get home to post pictures or statuses that give away a location.
“Don’t upload your album from your trip until you are back,” Jones said. “Don’t alert people to the fact that you are away from home.”
Jones also advises parents to put on their “bad hats” and think about their actions from a criminal standpoint.
“You don’t have to be cynical all the time, just careful,” he said.
“It is not the technology that is bad, but how we use it.”