Online Behaviors To Watch For, Part 2

 
This kid is just *adorable*!

(con't)

Relationships. Contrary to popular belief, online friendships and relationships can be just as intense as those in real life, if not more. This is where talking with people and saying things we wouldn't otherwise come into play. It might start out as fun, but being overly flirtatious or getting, um, personal with people online can lead to major problems offline. To illustrate how serious this is, Dateline NBC has a series called To Catch A Predator where decoys pose as teens or tweens online looking for older 'friends'. After some conversation, the decoy will lure a potential predator by saying they are 'home alone'. Thinking that they're about to get some action, the predator comes over to the house only to be met by journalist Chris Hansen, a 'watchdog' group called Perverted Justice and several police officers. They're doing this to expose predators and make the point that there are people out there who will take advantage of a naïve person.

Even if no one is physically hurt, however, there is a lot of potential for emotional pain from becoming involved with someone who turns out not to be who they say they are. I know this happens in real life too, but it's much easier to keep up the façade online. Also, it's not hard to develop a friendship that can escalate into something more and thus get in the way of 'real life' relationships. A relationship doesn't have to be physical to make a partner feel threatened. Just trust me on that one.

You've probably heard these before, but here are some precautions you and/or your kids should take.

Baby steps. If you or your kids get close enough to someone to want to meet them in person, don't jump right to it. Talk on the phone-or, even better, webcam-before you meet someone in person. It's easier to 'vet' someone this way.

Watch your 'tone'. Remember, the nonverbal cues we use to convey meaning 'in person' are not present online. Things we say can be taken completely differently. Also, to quote my dad, 'don't let your mouth write checks your butt can't cash'. Everything posted online is up there for good for everyone to see. There are ways for tech-savvy people to find you.

Finally-

Don't be 'too safe'. There might be a lot of bad people 'out there', but there are also a lot of good people. Online 'communities', over time, can easily become 'real' in that people get close to others and be a major source of support. For instance, when a longtime member of one forum I frequent died suddenly, it made a big impact. People eulogized her, 'retired' her avatar and held a 'virtual' funeral. Another community took up a collection for the medical bills of a member with a severe injury. Even if you don't get close on a wide scale like this, it's much easier to find a place to 'fit in' and find others like you. Don't be so 'guarded' that you miss out on what can become great friendships.

As you can see, there are a lot of things on the internet to be wary of. Where there is potential for pain, though, there is also potential for happiness. Just use common sense and you and your kids should be fine.

For more information about To Catch A Predator, visit http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/10912603/.



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