"Meeting someone on line is not knowing someone."
~Officer Baczuk, April 16, 2013~
The Valdez Police Department and Valdez City Schools have been offering a five week course in internet safety for middle and high school students. Rowan's attended the first two so far, and last Tuesday I decided I'd hang out for the class and see what the instructor, Valdez Police Officer Baczuk, had to say.
His main message was that using the internet is okay, and you'll be safe as long as you don't "talk" to anyone you don't personally know and don't share personal information. Don't IM strangers, don't friend anyone but personal acquaintances on Facebook, don't share addresses, phone numbers, age, school, etc. Don't open the door to strangers.
All in all, the message was pretty standard and one that I thought should have been self-evident. Perhaps not for the predominantly middle school audience, however, who is likely naive enough to expect that no one intends them any harm. On the other hand, another parent commented that she'd like her mother to have to take this class, so perhaps the message isn't self-evident for all adults either.
I realized as I listened to Officer Baczuk and the kids that I have not been modeling good internet behavior for my daughter. In an attempt to be a good mom, I brought it up with Rowan on our way home.
Basically, I said to her that she knows I have many Facebook friends who are people I don't know personally. I frequently talk with my family about things they say or share. I noted that they're all women (if I remember correctly), and they're all people with whom I had some other connection. I didn't just accept random friend requests. In fact, I've turned down many friend request from people I'd never heard of and had no reason to think should be my "friend."
I also noted that I thought I'd had enough experience in 45 years of living to be a reasonable judge of character. Of course, she pointed out that I wouldn't know if one of my "friends" was lying about who she is, or even if she is a she. True, but I also don't share very personal information on Facebook. Perhaps I'm being naively optimistic about being taken advantage of through my internet connections - I hope not.
So far, Rowan's accepted my denial of her having a Facebook account. I've fallen back on the Facebook rule that one is supposed to be 13, even though many parents don't abide by that. We'll see in another year whether or not she gets one then. When she finally does get an account, I guarantee I will be her very best friend. (I know you read my blog, Rowan, so you're forewarned!)
And to my internet-only friends, I hope someday I get a chance to meet you and establish real relationships. You're my friends because we have something, perhaps many things, in common, and I consider myself lucky to have you. My life is a richer tapestry because your bright threads are interwoven with mine. Thanks for being there.
I wrote a related post on E-relationships last fall, if you're interested.