Meeting Online Friends Offline
It’s a parent’s worst nightmare: Unbeknownst to you, your son or daughter befriends someone online, and, after exchanging messages with this person, they agree to meet face to face. The risks are obvious.
Much media and public attention focuses on this aspect of children’s online safety. And it should, given the opportunities the internet gives to predators seeking to make contact with young people.
It’s perhaps the single greatest risk to children when using the internet, and unfortunately research carried out in 2011 shows that more and more children are meeting up with people they first met online.
EU Kids Online
According to “The Risks and Safety for Children on the Internet: The Ireland Report”, research conducted as part of the EU Kids Online study, some four per cent of 9-16 year old children have met with someone they did not know prior to befriending them online. A further 28 per cent of children have made contact online with people they didn’t know previously.
While the findings primarily relate to older teenagers, with one in ten 15-16 year olds meeting offline with someone they didn’t know before meeting them online, it should be noted that the statistics are at the lower end of the European scale.
There is previous research which suggests that the risk of harm from meeting someone offline is low. Despite this, parents are right to be concerned by the issue.
What can I do to Mitigate the Risks?
Agree rules on the issue of making new online friends
Remember, one of the main reasons children use the internet is to widen their circle of friends. So it is only natural that they meet new people on various different websites such as Facebook and Twitter.
By keeping the channels of communication open with your child, and by talking about the risks involved with meeting online friends, you can ensure that they will come to you first.
You should agree rules on the issue of making new online friends, and meetings. Stress to your child that they should never go alone and always meet in a public place.
And also ensure that you are always kept informed of any offline meetings with new people.
By following these steps you can be in the loop with your child so that you can help them stay clear of the risks.