Parenting teenagers today is challenging — it is not only about their lives offline, but now parents need to be fully aware of their digital activity. How can you protect your teen from being catfished?
We have heard the horror stories of cyberbullying over the past several years, and they never get easier to hear. Catfishing is an extended branch of online harassment that takes cruelty to a new level. The tragedy in Riverside California is a cruel reminder of the dark-side of the web and why parents must constantly be in touch with their child’s online activity.
Peer pressure is nothing new; however today our teens are not only judged in the hallways at school. The pressures and subsequent feelings can now be magnified a thousand times over through computer and cell phone screens.
What hasn’t changed is that everyone still wants to be liked and recognized. In our society, sadly, being liked – especially among teens – has become somewhat synonymous with how many hearts, clicks or thumbs ups one can collect online. It’s a popularity race that can quickly turn to the dark side.
Today, teens can become victims of humiliation while quietly sitting in the privacy of their own bedrooms. Peer cruelty is especially devastating when it goes viral for everyone to see, and has even been linked to teenage depression.
It can be even worse when you discover that your teen has been duped online, also known as catfishing. This can be extremely devastating for not only adults, but especially young people.
What is Catfish? (Besides the obvious literal answer of being a type of fish.): Urban Dictionary’s most popular answer defines a catfish as: “someone who pretends to be someone they’re not using Facebook or other social media to create false identities, particularly to pursue deceptive online romances.”
It is important to understand the damage that cyberbullying, stalking and harassment can cause, or the emotional turmoil a person can go through when they are a victim of a ruse like Catfish. Most kids are still under the belief that it won’t happen to them; they are invincible. I would venture to say some parents believe that too.
Why do parents need to discuss Catfish and other stories of online dangers? A Florida sex sting operation with over fifty men arrested is a perfect example of why the lines of communication need to be open between parents and children. These sexual predators targeted children online and posed as teens when in reality they were teachers, businessmen, students and tourists ranging in age from 19 to 60.
Chris Duque, a former Police Detective who has been studying online predators for over thirty years, has created false personas to lure these types of suspects.” It’s easy to be duped online, very easy,” Duque said. “The thing with the Internet is your five senses are somewhat limited and what you see online may not be what you’re really going to get.”
This may seem like common sense to many, however when adults and kids are desperate for friendship, they will let their guard down. Duque continues, “If you go online, you’re vulnerable because the perpetrators will know there’s something dysfunctional about you emotionally and psychologically, and they’ll prey on that.”
Catfish, sextortion, sexual predators, cyberbullying, cyber-stalking and other dangers we face online are not going away anytime soon, and we need to continuously talk to our kids about internet safety and privacy issues. As parents, we should make it a priority to teach our kids the importance of watching their language and how they interact with others online — that respecting others both in person and online goes hand and hand. This lesson should start from the moment a child is given a keypad of any kind.
Online Safety Tips
•Never post questionable comments or photos that can come back to haunt you. Limit your sharing on social media.
•Talk to your kids (especially tweens and teens) about speaking to strangers online — the fact is, they shouldn’t be speaking to online strangers. Period. Set up boundaries, show them examples of how Internet predators’ prey on children AND adults (such as the Catfish story). Kids can relate better to real-life stories–share them.
•Limit the personal information they are allowed to put online. Their address, phone number, full name, financial information, etc. should never be allowed — ever.
•Never share their passwords with anyone (except their parents).
•Parents and teens: It is never too late to start building and maintaining your online reputation. Make sure it is a positive one.
•Secure your privacy settings on all your social networking sites. Repeat this weekly.
Remind your kids and teens over and over, they should never meet anyone in real life they have meet online — especially without telling their parents. Communication is key for keeping your teens and kids safe. Short chats can build strong relationships and trust. It’s never too late to start.
If you are struggling with your troubled teenager and are considering a therapeutic boarding school, contact us for a free consultation. Since 2001 we have been helping parents find the right boarding schools for their teenagers.