My View: Strangers are still strangers in online world

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A new survey about teenagers and the internet has produced some worrying findings.

A new survey about teenagers and the internet has produced some worrying findings.

The research for Radio One’s Newsbeat programme found that one in three teenagers have gone on to meet someone in real life who they first encountered online.

The survey was of more than 1,000 British teenagers aged between 15 and 18.

Thirty six per cent said they had gone on to meet someone they’d first interacted with while using social media.

A quarter (25 per cent) of those surveyed also said they felt happier online than they did in real life.

Dr Emma Short, a psychologist for the National Centre for Cyberstalking Research at the University of Bedfordshire says the findings are both worrying and concerning.

“They have lost sight – to a degree – of the risk, because anyone that you meet online, even if you negotiate with them, talk to them, they are still actually a stranger.”

The reality of this were shown only recently when a friend of mine spotted that her 11-year-old daughter was getting texts from some people whose names she didn’t recognise.

The texters were boys (or men, who knows?) she said she had come across using social media site Instagram. She had only been allowed access to the site as all her friends were using it.

But over a two-week period her daughter had struck up a regular conversation with one particular texter.

Although she hadn’t passed on any personal details she has no way of telling who she was actually communicating with or what would have happened had her mother not come across the texts.

My friend’s daughter had even attended courses talking about being safe on line, but she was obviously flattered by this person’s attention and forgot everything she had been told.

Needless to say her phone has been confiscated and now her parents are drawing up a contract with her for its use once it is returned.

But it has been a traumatic time for everyone, and a stark reminder of the dangers of living in the 21st century.

It highlights just how easy it is for our children to forget the risks when they actually do meet someone on line.

We want to be able to trust out growing children, but they also have to earn that trust. My husband’s reaction is that social media is the devil’s work. But denial is not the answer. It is the way our children will and do communicate.

What we have to do as responsible parents is continue to reinforce the dangers of striking up conversations with complete stranger who says that they want to be your friend – 
no matter how flattering it may be.

Twitter@ypcscott