As I talk to parents I notice themes that are emerging in schools across the country. One theme that comes up repeatedly is online impersonation. I’ve been told of situations where classmates pretend to be other classmates, adults pretend to be teens, and even teens pretend to be adults. At the end of the day, many teens have no real idea who is on the other end of their Internet connection.
One aspect of impersonation ties directly to cyberbullying. In a recent discussion with a local School Resource Officer, one of the topics that came up was this exact issue. Multiple times per month SRO’s are having to deal with students pretending to be other students online. Here are some scenarios that are seen often:
- Teens have pretended to be classmates to create false posts or send false information to other teens.
- In other cases, teens have just created fake accounts to be able to post bullying content about another teens without attaching their identity to it.
- Teens have pretended to be other teens to try and get damaging information from other teens. This can even lead to blackmailing.
In most all of these cases, teens simply believe too easily what they are told online and they share information that they shouldn’t. We need to find a way to help our kids avoid this pitfall.
Talk to Your Child
We have to teach our children to be hard-core skeptics when it comes to people they meet online. One of our cornerstone topics for parents is that they need to talk to their kids about what should and should be shared online as well as some truths about who they encounter. These topics below cover the latter:
- If your child is talking to someone they think they know, let them know that they need to verify through another method (such as calling).
- Tell your child to assume that strangers aren’t who they say they are online. While you don’t need to explain every aspect of why people may be deceptive online, giving your child a sense of fear of strangers online is a good thing.
- Remind your child that when using online platforms that they should stay away from “anonymous” platforms (as they encourage bad behavior).
Having these conversation before your child gets active online is a great deal easier, but these are conversations that you should have with your child no matter where they are at in this process. By taking ten minutes to have a chat, you could prevent a great deal of pain for your child.