Facebook, blame, and the new world our kids face

May 21, 2013

“This wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for Facebook.”

In every tragedy that even potentially involves a predator finding a victim online, Facebook and others seem to bear a large portion of the blame. It’s convenient to point fingers at a site, and yes, it’s important sites take steps to protect their users, but it really only deflects our attention from the truth; there are new dangers for our kids, and we don’t fully know how to combat them.

I remember the conversations when my parents taught me what to do if a strange adult asked me to follow them or offered me candy. The threats children face now are really very similar to those we’ve been preparing kids to handle for decades; the difference is that now anyone has easy access to almost any child and can put on almost any face.

The sad truth is that it’s tough to prepare kids for a world that changes every year – or every month. I can’t reasonably expect all parents to understand how to use every new tool. (Heck, I was one of the first people on both Facebook and Twitter in Maine, and I just sent my first Snapchat a week or two ago. And yes, it does make me feel old to think that Facebook messages and email are considered passé.)

I remember high school and the recipe for disaster that environment fosters. Take a hearty craving for validation and acceptance, throw in a good bit of invulnerability, and voilà… trouble.

We need to figure out how to educate children about the importance of online privacy and safety. Digital literacy and conduct need to be part of every school curriculum, and there needs to be better resources for parents who may not have even heard about the tools and apps their kids use every day. Parental controls on a phone are a start, but they’re not enough. Kids are smart (and crafty).

As I spend more time thinking about these challenges, I keep coming back to those talks my parents had with me about conversations with strangers. The methods by which predators lure children are ever-changing – and ultimately irrelevant. The candy may be digital now, but the lessons we need to teach our kids are the same.