I watched “20/20” tonight, an ABC network news show that comes on every Friday night. I generally watch if there is nothing else to watch (I can suffer from super news saturation) or if they are presenting something in particular that I want to learn more about.
Tonight it was the latter rather than the former. They were doing stories on the Internet and some of the atrocities (for lack of a better word) that occur in cyberspace. I found out that you don’t have to leave your home to be victimized, nor does an actual physical assault have to be carried out to make you a victim.
Sometimes all it takes is having a computer that is capable of “going online.” I remember the first time we hooked up a modem and went online — it wasn’t a very long session because we didn’t actually have a server at the time, and we were more or less experimenting with what little knowledge we had.
Did I say little? I mean minute. We heard the buzzing sound and tried to connect to my brother’s computer. I don’t remember if we were actually successful, the noise was so annoying that I left the room. High-pitched buzzing makes me nuts.
So I’m learning all about this phenomenon we call YouTube. You make a little movie that you think is so great and post it on YouTube for all and sundry to see.
You want them to admire your expertise in whatever field you are endeavoring to break into — say mooning the world is your objective, it doesn’t take much of a brain to figure out how that’s done. Or maybe you want to ride through neighborhoods yelling obscenities or scaring little kids. Well, all you need is a camera. And a computer.
Maybe you want to give that jerk at the local drive-through restaurant something to think about, so you order an extra-large drink and when it is handed out to you, you return it minus the cup.
Of course you record it for posterity. Now all this time you want everyone to know how smart you are, what a wow of an entertainer you have become with your trusty camera and loyal computer. So you put your name on everything and show your face and talk about how great you felt when you were doing the dirt.
The thing is, most of the perpetrators are in their early teens. Their brains haven’t developed enough to grasp the concept of forever. They know that cyberspace is forever. They just don’t know what forever means.
They haven’t matured enough to know that what you thought was so cool and funny at say, 14, isn’t perceived as quite the same thing when you are 40 And while you may develop memory loss problems, cyberspace will remember you and all your friends and every vile thing you did to inflict pain on another human being forever.
Kids bullying kids online in their own homes is quite common. It’s something a lot of kids don’t know how to handle because they don’t want to involve their parents in it. Not on purpose, anyway. It’s the same as ratting.
So how do we as parents get a handle on “cybercrime”in the teen world?
Keep that computer out in a public area, learn the lingo (everyone knows that LOL means laugh out loud, but there are other abbreviations like POS — parent over shoulder — to warn that a parent is watching). You don’t have to be over their shoulder every second, but make sure you walk by them frequently so that they aware you’re there.
It’s the best form of protection for them. Google your kids’ names about once a week and don’t be surprised if you find results popping up.
If you don’t know how to Google someone, it’s quite easy. Just type his or her name in the Google search engine. If your child’s name appears, find out WHY it popped up. The most important thing is to talk to your kids, ask them questions about what they do online, and don’t buy that “just doing research for a paper” — that might be exactly what they’re doing three out of 10 times. If you’re lucky.
And remind the kids that what they post online today can still be found by colleges they may want to attend later, future employers and yes, political parties should they ever decide to run for office.
I don’t think I’d be voting for some little jerk who spent his spare time harassing the public rather than serving it. Most important of all is always to arm yourself with knowledge. And then don’t be afraid to use it.
Sandi McBride is a resident of Jefferson who blogs regularly and enjoys her garden and her furry and feathered friends. She is a wife and mother of two sons.