November 3, 2011

Meeting new "friends" online

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When I first started using the internet, I remember in high school how chat rooms instantly became the newest form of entertainment. When my friends and I would get together on the weekends we would venture into these chat rooms, creating alter egos and pretending we were older than we really were. Luckily nothing dangerous ever happened to us when we would “have fun” online, but I will never forget my 11th grade social studies teacher who first warned me about internet safety.


My social studies teacher was a retired army colonel, but you would have never guessed it from his soft demeanor and caring smile. He was always helping students out after school and never missed a day of class. Then in the spring, around early April, I remember he was out for a week of class, and everyone in the school was talking about what could have happened to him. Not only was it odd for him to miss a day of school, but our substitute teacher didn’t even know if he was sick or on vacation. The school principal came to talk to our class one day saying that he would be out for a few weeks dealing with a family emergency. We were all in shock and I remember thinking I hope his wife and son were okay. He had a younger son around my age and he always talked about him.


When he finally returned to class a few weeks later, we were all anxious to hear from him what had been going on. He ended up gathering our class in a circle and telling us how his son had been using an internet chat room to meet people online and ended up getting kidnapped after trying to meet these new “friends” he met online, in front of a mall near our school. We were all shocked to hear that this had happened, and my friends and I felt especially guilty since we would “have fun” online by going into chat rooms and meeting strangers. Luckily, we never thought to meet any one we met on line, but our teacher told us the dangers of talking to strangers’ online and letting people know personal information about yourself like where you lived, where you went to school, and your phone number.


Our teacher spent the rest of the class explaining to us in a thoughtful and clear way how we needed to be careful online and not let what happened to his son happen to any of us. Luckily, my teacher’s son was found unharmed, but I will never forget his message and the effect it has on me to this day.


Now when I go online, I am always careful and never give anyone personal information that I do not know. Even if someone says they are my “friend” I make sure to put special privacy controls on my Facebook account and social media accounts, so only my real friends can see the information I want them too. I believe in the importance of sites like bNetS@vvy and their mission to educate students, guardians, and educators about the importance of internet safety. Even with my little cousins who are just starting middle school I make sure to tell them that story, as a way to teach them how to be safe when they go online.


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