People blog. That may sound like an obvious statement, but it is worth repeating. From TheFutureBuzz blog, the statistics from the beginning of 2009 were as follows:
- 133,000,000 blogs were indexed by Technorati (a search engine specific to searching blogs) since 2002
- 346,000,000 people globally read blogs (from comScore March 2008)
- On average of 900,000 blog posts went live in a 24-hour period
- 77% of active Internet users read blogs
- 81 languages are represented in the blogosphere
- 59% of bloggers have been blogging for at least 2 years
One statistic that is absent but TheStatesman.com found worth noting is that, according to research firm Nielsen Online, "women ages 25 to 54 with at least one child now account for 19.2% of the active online population." These women are part of the influential community within the community referred to as "Mommy Bloggers".
TheStatesman.com also reports that "…↑ it’s tough to determine how many mom bloggers are actually out there. In 2005, Technorati estimated there were about 8,500 blogs where parents were writing about their kids. Now [in 2009], the number is certainly larger, but hard to ascertain because so-called mommy blogs (and daddy blogs, too) are classified as something else (craft blogs, coupon blogs, product review blogs)." While their numbers may be hard to pin down, their influence is clear. (Just ask Motrin following a failed 2008 "viral ad" campaign.) Currently in 2010, it can be expected that more moms and dads will enter the blogosphere or some other Social Media outlet (Facebook, podcasting, Twitter, etc.) to join a community of parents working together to raise their children.
What is alarming, though, are the instances when parents reveal too much information about their child and their lifestyles. A recent article in The Washington Post reported that 8% of Twitter users were teens, while comScore reported that the average user on Twitter is between the ages of 45-54. This insinuates that while the younger generation isn't actively tweeting, updating their Facebook statuses, or blogging about their week, their parents may very well be, and in the process revealing the name of their school, their current whereabouts (soccer game, basketball game, etc.), or even more alarming, their names and names of friends. What may appear as innocuous details on the surface is a treasure trove of information that, at the very least, identity thieves can get a hold of and exploit. Perhaps we wouldn't want to consider the worst case scenarios, but these scenarios are undeniable and slightly frightening truths that should not be dismissed.
By no means, though, are we endorsing or suggesting that mommy or daddy bloggers stop posting, that parental podcasters shut down their productions and delete their various accounts across social networks, or that children be quarantined from technology. What we do suggest are a few things to make your online communities and communications safer and stronger:
Avoid using your child's name online. When you are in a discussion online or putting together a commentary on a current issue, try to refer to your child by a code name. (Superhero names are particularly fun.) Do not punish yourself or others for the occasional slip, but do ask that close friends adhere to these code names when online.
Disable GPS Location services when attending school or family events. It's been a hot topic across the Internet. From the New York Times to CBS to this very blog, the debate over how much information is too much information continues. When sharing your status with social networks, keep places and events broad and generic. You can still share a picture of your son or daughter attending the event, but avoid posting coordinates or checking in with location-based vendors. Instead, post a photo and say "At my daughter's concert. I'm so very proud of her." That will convey the same message and carry the same sentiment without sharing your exact whereabouts.
Keep your child's computer in a high traffic location of the house. We have to take precautions with tools like computers, and accept that while kids know how they work, they may not grasp how vulnerable they can make themselves when going online. By placing a computer or laptop in an open area of your house, you can monitor your child's online whereabouts. This includes:
- Chat rooms
- Online shopping
While some (including "tweens" and teens 13-15 years old) may look at this as "spying", keep these statistics in mind:
- One in five U.S. teenagers who regularly log on to the Internet say they have received an unwanted sexual solicitation via the Web. Solicitations were defined as requests to engage in sexual activities or sexual talk, or to give personal sexual information. (Crimes Against Children Research Center)
- 75% of children are willing to share personal information online about themselves and their family in exchange for goods and services. (eMarketer)
- 77% of the targets for online predators were age 14 or older. Another 22% were users ages 10 to 13. (Crimes Against Children Research Center)
And keep in mind at all times — Only 1/3 of households with Internet access are actively protecting their children with filtering or blocking software. (Center for Missing and Exploited Children)
You aren't spying. You're being a responsible parent.
Understand How the "Wonder Widget" Works. Part of being a responsible parent also means getting a grasp at what "cool tech" is out there and how it works. This is probably the most difficult aspect of parenting as kids' interests change almost as quickly as technology itself. (And usually, something is considered "uncool" when Mom and Dad figure it out.) However, it is a good idea if you know your child is getting into MySpace, asking for a smartphone for their birthday, or joining an MMO game (and if you don't know what MMO stands for, this is part of understanding the trends in tech), you should have a basic idea of what the widget is, how it works, and more importantly how vulnerable it could make your child. No, you don't have to be a Social Media expert, or a Level 41 Wizard in World of Warcraft; but a grasp of the basics can take you far.
It is very easy to regard identity protection as something exclusive for grown-up's, but our children's identity is equally as important. By not considering where key points of personal identifiable information (PII) are revealed and shared within online communities and in everyday exchanges in the real world, we could be inadvertently placing our kids within harm's way. From fraudulent credit card accounts to character-damaging actions online to the worst case scenario — personal danger — all are possible if parents do not stop and think before they blog, tweet, or post a Facebook update status. Predators and identity thieves do not discriminate by age. We are all susceptible and as adults, and parents, it is our responsibility to protect our children.