Online predators beware

Jerry Maldonado Contributor
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Who would have thought a few simple taps on the keyboard and clicks of the mouse could put a parents mind at ease; moreover, children coming up with the idea? This is what happened on a recent check of my tween’s Facebook account.

Granted, I’m lucky to have the ability most parents don’t, nor want to get involved in, but they should. Checking their children’s online accounts is just like looking in their room as any concerned parent does; only this room is open to the world.

Facebook is a great source for many things, but also has many drawbacks. This online network has given everyone the biggest platform to express themselves unlike anything created before. My biggest concern, and I could speak for many, is the children who use this network and become prey for others.

But parents need to follow this same mantra for themselves as well. I know my children have access to my account through friendship and I am always willing to let them take a look to see what daddy’s doing. You can’t teach integrity and respect without following the same rule. But it wasn’t until one morning last week I found out children can sometimes fix a problem without even knowing what they are doing.

My morning routine always includes a quick scan of my children’s accounts. I became quite angry when I noticed one of them changed her name. Instead of the usual first and last name listing, my child used her “first and middle name” to headline her Facebook profile. Then it dawned on me! My child just became invisible!

In other words, by using her first and last name opened the door to all potential searches by predators. Also, hackers love to use children’s names to gather all sorts of information, but predators use it to try and find where children live. Most important, children now know who their friends are as a result. Sounds simple, but quite ingenious I would say.

Upon arriving home I asked my child why she would do such a thing. Perhaps I was throwing her a conundrum to find out the real reason, but she just thought it was “cool” to have that listing. I smiled and explained what she and a host of her friends just did to protect herself without even knowing it.

That simple act of being “cool” is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to protecting your children. Predators don’t have to drive the streets anymore, or hang out near schools, but look online and their prey is just a picture away.

In other words, most children don’t realize that a picture is worth a thousand words. If your child’s account is open then anyone can take a look. Whether its pictures, where their going, or even phone numbers and e-mail addresses, parents need to keep a watchful eye as hundreds of millions can see everything and privacy is out the window.

You would think adults would know this. Employer’s or potential employer’s use this method all the time. Derogatory pictures, postings, and personal information have hurt many people and most don’t even realize it.

A great word of advice I’ve always told my children is to think of themselves as a big billboard. What you advertise is what attracts good or bad. That metaphor has always been used in how we dress, act, and treat others in life. Unfortunately, people have forgotten the cyber world is also watching.

Jerry Maldonado – Jerry Scott Maldonado is the author of “Columns, Quotes & The American Dream.” Tate Publishing Group, due out October 2010. He is a featured columnist for The D.C.G Network of news sites: Sundaynewscape.com, Onequestionnews.com, and Imperialvalleynews.com. Jerry’s work has also been featured internationally.