In early August, some media outlets covered a curious case: A 41-year-old Dutch man was taken to a local hospital from Changsha airport, in China. He had flown there to visit a woman he met online, but after spending 10 days in the airport, he needed medical intervention.
When the man decided to surprise his online crush with a visit, they had been in touch for just two months. Although reactions to the story — and sympathies — vary wildly, most would agree that’s rather impulsive. We can’t know how the visit might have proceeded if the woman had actually shown up; evidently, she thought he was joking when he sent a snapshot of his plane tickets, and she was out of town while he languished in the airport.
All in all, this story is one of the most benign tales of Internet horror imaginable. It’s a missed connection and a misunderstanding, not a criminal physically harming or defrauding a victim — although it easily could have been.
What does that have to do with kids’ security? After all, a child isn’t going to hop on a plane bound for China.
It’s this universal truth: You never know what’s going on inside anyone’s head, whether it’s an online acquaintance or a stranger on the street. Any person could be a criminal , or a maniac, or a fraud. But with online encounters, you can’t even rely on the physical signals we use to try to judge trustworthiness in person. It’s even easier to fool someone online than in person. Their avatar might not look anything like them.
To help your kid avoid fishy online encounters, teach them two simple rules:
- Do not talk to people using online services that display personal information.
- Do not disclose any personal information on services where you interact with strangers (like forums, online games, and blogs).
Also, use online security programs for kids, also known as parental controls, to learn who your child is talking to online, on the phone, and on social networks. This information can help you spot potential danger so that you can have conversations about what’s going on.
The Internet has become deeply interconnected with our lives, and managing online dangers is just as critical as dealing with the dangers kids encounter out in the world. Be vigilant about personal privacy and make sure kids understand that Internet anonymity is vital: After all, there are dangers much worse than waiting for your online crush for 10 days at the airport or unexpectedly encountering an undesired guest from across the world.