For decades, “stranger danger” has been a term parents of school-aged kids used to warn their children. Before the rise of the internet, stranger danger referred to the dangers associated with strangers physically preying on innocent victims enticing with candy, knocking on the door or approaching a wandering child at a grocery store. While stranger danger is still a reality, it has a new dimension: threats from dangerous strangers can present themselves both in the flesh and online. Indeed, Internet stranger danger is a real and growing problem.
When you send your child out into the world, you try to keep him or her safe from predators. The same is true online: just as a child can fall prey to a real-life predator, he or she can be victimized by an online stranger looking to prey on unsuspecting youths.
Video Discussion Questions
(for parents & teachers)
• Can you ever really know if an online-only friend is male or female?
• Can you know for sure how old an online-only friend is?
• Why may it be easier to share school problems with an online-only friend than an in-person, face-to-face friend?
• Have you ever pretended to be someone you are not? If so, when?
• How are online-only friends and in-person, face-to-face friends different?
• What kind of information should you not share with online-only friends?
• What should you do when someone you don’t know asks for private information?
Video Discussion Questions
(for parents & teachers)
• By now, you have probably heard the saying, "Don't talk to strangers." How might this "rule" change when we communicate online?
• What are some of the opportunities and some of the pitfalls of connecting with people online?
• In what online situations should you get a “gut feeling” that tells you that you may be at risk?
• What are some rules for staying safe when talking and messaging online?
• How might you handle one of these situations to make the outcome change?
The Dangers of Talking to Strangers Online
When you see your child texting or chatting online, you may assume they are communicating with friends and family. But that may not always be the case.
A study from Cox Communications found that 69% of teens regularly receive personal messages online from strangers. Many parents may be unaware of this because only 21% of teens who receive messages from strangers tell a trusted adult.
Kids aren’t talking about encounters with online strangers, but parents need to.
Know the Facts
If you think your child is safe from online stranger solicitation, you are wrong. The San Diego District Attorney (SDDA) reported that over 45 million children ages 10-17 use the Internet, and among them:
• close to 60% of teens have received an e-mail or instant message from a stranger, and half have communicated back
• one in five has been sexually solicited
The odds that your child or teen has encountered a solicitation from a stranger online are high, and there is also a chance that those messages were inappropriate or lewd.
Restrict Stranger Chat Sites
There are a few social sites that promote chatting with strangers. Parents should familiarize themselves with those sites so they can recognize if their children are using them.
Omegle – Randomly connects users with strangers and allows them to chat via text or video chat. It is known to often include sexual material.
Imeetzu– Randomly connects users with strangers, requires no registration, and permits text, video, and group chats.
Tohla – Opens chat windows within the site for chatting one-on-one with strangers.
Bazoocam – Is an international chat site that pairs users with strangers for video chat sessions.
Parents should consider banning these sites, so their children fully understand the danger associated with communicating through these channels.
Educate Yourself on Chat Lingo
Because some kids and teens don’t fully understand the dangers of talking to strangers online, they may engage in this behavior. If they know you disapprove, they may attempt to hide it. So educate yourself on the chat lingo they may use to hide their conversations.
ChatSlang has a full list of terms that parents should recognize. Among them:
9 or C9 – Parent in room
CD9 – Parents are watching
SPROS – Stop parents reading over shoulder
KPC – Keeping parents clueless
ASLP – Age/Sex/Location/Picture
These are only a few of the acronyms kids use to attempt to keep their parents in the dark. So keep an eye out for any unusual acronyms and question your child if you don’t understand their messages.
Take Safety Precautions
Educating yourself on the dangers of online stranger encounters is the first step in protecting your kids. The next step is educating your kids, and that means talking to them about it.
The SDDA reports that “71% of parents stop supervising Internet use by their children after the age of 14, yet 72% of all Internet-related missing children cases involve children who are 15 years of age or older.”
It’s important to continue to protect and educate your children even into their teens. Keep lines of communication open so they feel comfortable coming to you in the event a stranger contacts them online, and stay connect with apps like MamaBear Family Safety (available for iPhones and Androids) that helps you see who is talking to your kids in social media environments.
How to Talk to Your Kids About Online Stranger Danger
Take this opportunity to remind your kids how to protect themselves from online stranger danger:
- Keep your profiles set as private.
- Remember that people can easily pose as someone else online.
- Online profile photos cannot prove someone’s identity.
- If someone sends you inappropriate photos, tell an adult immediately.
- Never give out personal information such as your address, phone number, or school name.
- Don’t accept friend requests from people you don’t know — even if you have mutual friends.
- If someone asks you to meet them in real life, tell an adult immediately.
- NEVER meet a person you met online in real life.
Stranger danger – whether in real life or online – is something all parents worry about. By taking some precautions, staying aware and communicating with your children, you’ll be able to put your mind at ease and allow your kids the freedom they need to grow, explore, learn and have fun.