Danger Where You Least Expect It
Back in Ocober I wrote about ways careful parents may not be aware regarding internet safety. Recently, I was reminded of another danger almost none of us considers: Display computers at stores like Best Buy.
Most of us are aware of libraries and school computer labs. Many parents know enough to monitor their children’s activities at such locations. But I wonder how many of even the most careful parents think about the computers on display at electronics stores.
These computers have internet access. There are even websites where people can post funny items seen online that feature posts sent from such computers. The biggest joke is to pose as the owner of a Facebook page or other site and post vulgar and humorous comments as that person. The issue arises when the owner of the account signs into their page via one of these display computers to either test the internet connection or because they don’t wish to have anyone at home knowing they have the account. I’ve seen comments by teenagers and children bragging about their parents not knowing about their web page, as well as adults cheating on their spouses by using these computers so they cannot be traced. Anyone can walk into any electronics store and even cellphone stores and “try out” their internet capabilities for certain products. While testing the service, you can log into any account you own and post anything you want. Many of these devices come with video chat and web cams.
I was once sitting at the Apple table in Best Buy looking at their products when I witnessed two girls no older than 11 or 12 taking photos and videos of themselves and uploading them to YouTube and a MySpace account of one of the girls. The other girl told the one with the MySpace account that she would get into trouble for posting a video of them online, and the response was, “Yeah, right! Like my mom and dad know I have a MySpace!” They continued making the videos and taking the photos while laughing about secretly getting away with what was clearly forbidden by their parents.
I made my way to their side of the table pretending to look at the Macs near them, and noticed the one with the MySpace had images of herself posing in a bikini as her avatar (profile image). There were comments on the page left by mostly men and a few girls their age, her friends. Some of the photos of the men were lewd and a clear violation of MySpace’s terms of service. I couldn’t read what they posted because I didn’t want to make my observation obvious, but most of the images I saw these men posting on her page were sexual in nature as well as images of glittery flowers.
Shortly after the girl posted her video, one of the sales representatives came to investigate their activities. He asked where their parents were and was told by one of the girls they had come with her brother. He told them they had to leave and could only return if an adult was with them.
After they hurried off, he sat down shaking his head and remarked, “They never sign out.” He did the right thing and logged them out of the accounts they had left wide open, but what if he was a pedophile? Or even an identity thief or just a plain ole mean person? He could have done a lot of damage with the information they used to sign up for those accounts, and given how careless they were with their names and activity online, I would say it’s a safe bet they used their real information and filled out everything (full name, birthdate, street address, city, state, phone number, school information…).
I asked him if they have a lot of problems with kids damaging the display computers and he told me not really, that the problem they mostly have is with kids coming in after school and signing into websites and cluttering up the Macs’ video and photo files with their pictures that they post on the internet. I asked him if they ever contacted the schools to complain since a bus stop nearby was where most of the kids were coming from. I explained that they should make the school aware so they could alert the parents, and I told him what I had just seen the girls doing and what they said.
He replied, “I know but what are you gonna do? It’s not like the school is going to do anything, and the parents won’t believe their kids are doing anything like that. They never do.” Those words stuck with me because of the experiences I had at the school where I taught art and witnessed all the kids with secret accounts they signed into using the school’s computer lab.
I don’t know what ever happened to those two girls, if the employee ever took my suggestion to the manager, if the manager ever contacted the school, and if the school ever contacted the parents or at least did something in the form of making the kids aware of their dangerous activities online. All I can do about that situation is to hope for the best.
What I can do here, however, is pass along this story and the danger that most of us just don’t ever consider. I never thought of it until that incident. I didn’t even know it was possible to get online from display computers or phones at shopping centers.
Not long after this happened, I found links to websites that post the jokes I mentioned before, where customers forget to log out of their accounts and strangers take over their profiles. It brings the danger home even harder when reading some of the vulgar things these people post on some stranger’s page. Imagine such things being posted on the page of a young girl, along with her private information for all the adult men on her page that have been grooming her for it.
Please, speak to your kids about internet safety. Let them know about the dangers and let them know your rules regarding personal accounts and posting their photos and videos of themselves online. Make sure they understand you are serious and there will be harsh consequences for their actions should they break the rules.
And let them know about friends they are with who do such things. Remember the girl’s friend, who warned her they would be in trouble. The girl with the MySpace page is putting her friend’s life in danger as well as her own, and her friend’s parents have no idea. Your daughter, or son, could be such a friend.
We hear about guns in our kids’ friends’ homes and discussion on this issue is a hot topic, always on TV, radio, in schools, and in homes. You warn your child about friends who bring guns to school and have guns in their homes. A child playing on the internet is the same as Russian Roulette.
Before I go, I’ll leave you with this insightful article. Please take this seriously. Statistics exist because it isn’t just overprotective paranoia.
As a kid in Los Angeles, I have two powerful memories that center around the swimming pool in the backyard of my cousins’ house in Mar Vista, California.
The first image in my mind is of looking over and seeing my little brother successfully floating. We had been trying for some time to float face down, and here he was pulling it off like a natural. Problem was he was three years old and didn’t swim! Two minutes later he was on the side of the pool. My mom pumped his arms, water gushed out of his mouth and nose, and he coughed as he began to breathe again.
The second image in my mind is of a swim instructor tossing my one-year-old cousin, still in diapers, through the air and into the pool. The image of this baby flying through the air and hitting the water at a strange angle is indelibly imprinted on my mind, as is the image several seconds later of him popping up to the surface and dog paddling back to the instructor.
The number one rule of pool ownership is that every kid in the family learns to swim. That’s just the way it works. If you can toddle, you have to swim.
So what if you don’t have a pool in your backyard? Are your kids safer? Sure, until they toddle off to the neighbor’s backyard and find water somewhere else. You could impose some significant controls and avoid the inconvenience of teaching your kids to swim –keep them away from the neighbors, off the beach, away from the ocean.
Now let’s raise the stakes a bit. What if you lived in the Pacific islands? What if you took your kids to school in a boat? What do you do when you’re completely surrounded by water? You teach the kids to swim! You don’t really have a choice.
Newsflash: We and our children are completely surrounded by technological water, and any child that isn’t being taught how to navigate those waters is at serious risk of emotional and spiritual drowning.
To clarify, when I say “technological water” I’m referring to tools not uses. “Tools” include cell phones, the Web, text messaging, Facebook, email, games, and every other technological influence in our lives. “Uses” include a full spectrum of good and evil applications. Using technology appropriately is swimming. Using technology inappropriately is drowning.
As I teach Internet safety, I sometimes encounter hearty souls who confidently declare, “I just won’t have that in my home!” It’s a noble sentiment. Oh that it were actually helpful!
The problem is that simply pulling the plug at home denies the reality that we are surrounded by technological waters. The question on the table is not whether our children will get wet, but rather whether they will be swimmers or drowners.
Kids will use technology of all sorts in their lives, at home or away, sooner or later. This is a fact of modern life, unless you bail out of your neighborhood and into an agrarian commune somewhere.
Assuming you stick around, you’re left with two questions: Will this wave of technology hit my children at home with my loving influence, where I can teach them correct principles? Or will it reach them away from home and outside my sphere of influence?
The doctor recommends option A. You teach them.
When you’re surrounded by water, everyone needs to know how to swim.
Other resources you’ll find useful: