I’m not a psychologist or therapist, so I’m not going to get into those aspects of the disturbing trend I saw on the TODAY show this morning, but I will speak to the Information Security/Keeping Kids Safe aspect of it. Turns out that (click on the link below) tween and young teen girls have taken to the Internet (mostly YouTube) to ask complete strangers on the Internet if they’re pretty or attractive.
Now to YouTube’s credit, they’re starting to scrub these videos. And, as I wrote above, I’m not going to get into the psychoanalysis of whether it’s a good idea for these girls to do this, other than to state that as a parent (although, admittedly, I have two grown sons), I think that this trend is disturbing and girls should not be doing this. But from a security viewpoint, this is extremely dangerous. Young girls asking complete strangers to view their videos and post comments on their attrractiveness can lead to pedophiles and other criminals viewing these videos, and luring the girls into meeting them. Not only that, even if these sick people never meet the girls, the girls have willingly given up images/videos of themselves that can be readily passed to other such sickos, or, even in another sense, could be used for blackmail or extortion purposes.
What can parents do? As I’ve said over and over again, even if the child purchased the computer with birthday money, earned money, bar/bat mitzvah money, etc., in almost 100% of families the parent pays for the Internet broadband connection. While it’s possibly extreme to state that because of this, such tween/teen girls (and boys) have no inherent right to privacy, it’s close. The # 1 thing parents can do to prevent this, besides having the requisite talks with their children regarding self-esteem, (etc. in that realm) is to have an honest discussion of what is proper and improper on the Internet, monitor what the child posts, and if possible, place the computer in a “public” area of the household. Yes, I know that we’ve moved a long way from around 2000 – 2002 (light years in terms of computing) when we only had one computer households. But most tweens/teens have laptops, connected wirelessly (wireless security is a discussion for another day), and while we don’t want our children to feel as if Big Brother is watching them, a wirelessly connected laptop with a webcam in a child’s room is looking for trouble. Forcing the child to use their laptop in a “public” room might be too much of a restriction, but an honest discussion of what’s proper and improper on the Internet must be held. And no, shooting the computer is waaaay over the top and won’t solve anything.