I had my day all planned. I was going to head out early for a one hour talk at the local school regarding cyber bullying, and then I was going to come home and blog a while about Obama’s speech, since I’ve had more time to think about it. But the best laid plans and all that. Here’s what actually happened: The talk on cyber bullying lasted more than two hours and covered a lot more than cyber bullying. Instead, the officer giving the talk educated all of us parents about social networking and internet chatting. All of us in the audience are sophisticated computer users, but at the adult level. We use it for business and as an informational, resource, as well as for emailing with our friends, family, colleagues, and child management networks (schools, carpools, sports, etc.). I think every one of us in the audience, while we’d heard lots about MySpace and Facebook, and things like that, was completely ignorant about how they operate, and about how they serve as honeypots for predators and killing fields for bullies.
We all left the room feeling somewhat depressed and quite overwhelmed by the task of protecting our children from the really bad stuff out there. The officer gave us information about programs that monitor computer use (so you can see what your kids are doing and so that you have a record of instant messages, which are the predator mode of communication and are not normally saved), about authentication programs to help limit the pool of people with whom your child chats (such as Portcard), and about the importance of simple oversight and good communication with ones children. Still, there’s no getting around the fact that, even as I educate myself today, social network and chat sites are proliferating; the cyberspace landscape keeps changing; and the children have the ever-increasing ability, thanks to free sites, free emails, and access to computers outside the home, to put themselves, quite innocently, in harm’s way. Protection efforts sometimes seem about as effective as trying to sweep the tide back with a mop.
I’m not giving up, of course. I just feel somewhat overwhelmed by the task.