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A note on how NOT to educate your kids about the dangers of social networking sites

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Protecting your kids from online predators in social networking environments is a hot topic nowadays – especially with the findings of a recent study by Ryerson University that found that “nine out of ten young Canadians socialize online regularly and frequently”.

But there are strategies that will help change kids’ behaviour – and strategies that every parent should probably avoid. Here’s one: having a cop scare and embarrass a child by pointing out, in front of his or her peers, what “a predator in prison” could do with the information that child has made public on a social networking site. Will Richardson, the “grandfather of blogging in the classroom” details just such a scenario in a recent blog post about a policeman in Cheyenne, Wyoming who was brought into a school to teach kids about MySpace.

One important lesson is that it’s hard to erase information from the Internet once you’ve made it public – so using fear tactics about information that has already been posted can certainly be frightening and possibly harmful. You want your child to alter his or her future behaviour – there is nothing to be gained from having a child lose sleep over a decision or action they have already taken.

The situation in Cheyenne obviously raised the hackles of some parents – otherwise it wouldn’t have been blogged about. The principal of the school in question came to the defense of the police officer, backing his story that he had not gone as far as the students claimed. But it’s an important lesson anyway – kids take what we say seriously. And when we have serious messages to impart we have to be careful that we don’t go too far.

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