JUNE 2, 2010

Sexting and deception

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I am trying to teach my son that people on the Internet can lie about their age, gender, etc. but he doesn't seem to get it? Can you help?

Teaching children about deception can be tricky depending on their age and level of maturity. Besides, who really knows how or when to tell your kid that there are bad people in the world who are purposefully lying about who they are and what they want?

No one is sure exactly when children are able to cognitively grasp this type of deception. Children do seem more capable of understanding "stranger danger" in their physical neighborhood than in the virtual world. This cognitive gap makes our kids vulnerable.

Right here in North Scottsdale, a 5th grade girl was on a popular site for kids and met a cute looking boy. These smart youngsters figured out how to bypass the privacy controls to get each other's cell phone numbers. They started texting each other and the girl passed the number on to several of her 5th grade friends, who also started texting the boy. This text exchange went on for several weeks until the boy asked one of the girls to meet him.

One of the friends eventually told an adult, who called the police, so the meeting never took place. According to the School Resource Officer the boy turned out to be a 59-year-old man posing as a boy.

I use this example because it is in our own backyard. These young girls were just having some fun and did not think that this cute boy could be a Predator. At this school, SPI was called in to give an individualized presentation on this topic to all 4th and 5th graders.

The thing about these stories that gets to me is this – these same girls would never walk up to a man on the street and strike up a conversation yet they thought nothing of texting and planning to meet a stranger they met on a popular site.

Anonymity on the Internet makes deception easier.

We have to find a way to identify these types of deception in language our children can understand (without inciting panic).

The strategy I use is to drive home the simple fact that anyone we don't know in real life is a STRANGER – especially online. If we have never personally met a person then all of the "Stranger Danger" rules we learned as a small child apply.

Tonight, sit down with your children and talk about what deception is, how common it is in the virtual world, and what they can do to protect themselves.

If you need help starting the conversation call your SPI School Prevention Specialist or visit us at www.spi-az.org.

Did you know? Sexting (having a nude or semi-nude photo on your phone) is considered child pornography and is a felony.

If that photo is forwarded on it is considered distribution of child pornography and if the individual is convicted they must register as a sex offender.