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What Is Your Teenager Really Doing Online?

February 22, 2011

What’s a gal to do when she can’t seem to meet anyone of interest in her daily life? With a busy schedule and limited time, how can I meet new people and potentially start a relationship? The answer, online dating. With sites like Match, Eharmony, Chemistry and Zoosk connecting with new people is easier than ever. With the click of my mouse, I put myself out there into the cyber dating game ready for my next beau. I can customize my choices by age group, nationality and even hair color. Seems easy and safe enough right? Wrong. The problem is that many people are misrepresenting themselves on these dating sites. That really good-looking swarthy spanish man you’ve been talking to is really a red-headed tween named Bubba from Kentucky. Even worse are all the predators that flock to these sites and even social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter to find their next illegal romantic liaison.

For someone my age, these things are pretty easy to spot and avoid. For a teenager though, its much more difficult to distinguish the difference between a cute high school crush and an old man creeping. A woman generally has no problem telling someone where to go when they request nudie pictures online, whereas a young girl may comply without really understanding the danger she is putting herself in. I read an article in USA Today about the dangers of sexting within high schools and how one Ohio student found herself being blackmailed by her older online boyfriend. The girl, 16, sent naked pictures of herself to her boyfriend and when she refused to put out for real, he threatened to post her pictures all over the internet. Instead of giving in, she told her parents which resulted in her boyfriend being convicted of attempted extortion.

According to Dotty Smith, Assistant Chief Prosecutor at Hamilton County, Ohio, “This is the way kids have relationships now. It’s very impersonal. You could be dating for a month and never have met”. Teenagers and tweens alike also don’t realize that whatever they put out into the cyber world isn’t private. Don’t assume just because you intended it for one recipient that others can’t access it. That’s a scary thought when sending sexts (a term to define sexually related text messaging) and naked pictures. The reality is that it is a crime for minors to either take or transmit a sexually explicit picture of minors, even if the picture is of themselves. Parents need to educate themselves on what’s really available online and get all passwords to any site your child belongs to. Become their online stalker, let them know you are checking at all times and give them a reason to think twice before posting a status update or uploading a picture. If your teenager doesn’t like it, so what, your job is to be a parent not their friend. Your increased awareness can help prevent your child from being exploited via the world wide web.

At GAI (www.gunwel.com) we would love to hear your thoughts. If you are thinking of buying your teen their own laptop, invest in a spyware program where you can have access to exactly what’s going on and block sites you deem inappropriate. Not sure if the added cost fits in to your budget? Let us help you create a spending plan that will leave you both financially and mentally at ease. So give us a call at 212-978-6830 or stop in and visit, walk-ins are always welcome. We are open Monday-Friday 8am-8pm and Saturdays 8am-5pm. Hope to see you soon!

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