Social Media Can Help or Hurt Job Searches

If there’s a chance you’re going to be in the job market any time in the coming years, you’d have to be living under a rock to be unaware that things that you post online might have an impact on your job prospects. Added to that, your current employment may be impacted by your online activity. Statistics vary, but generally speaking about 90% of hiring organizations use the internet to find candidates, and 75% of hiring managers are quick to check out candidates’ online profiles. Existing employers can check too.

job-searchA new survey by Jobvite highlights current statistics on how companies are using social media to recruit and vet candidates, and how job seekers are either using social to their advantage or being hampered by it. The survey polled 2,135 Americans aged 18+ who were active in the labor force or looking to be. A look at the highlights:

21% of respondent found their “favorite or best” job through social media – This number is likely to move higher over time, and it is not only LinkedIn. Facebook and Twitter were listed as well. Incidentally, 59% of employers list candidate referrals via social media as being of high quality.

Social job seekers use the media to vet company cultures – Candidates aren’t just looking at a company website – LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+, Instagram and Twitter were all listed by college grads as good sources.

Candidates use different networks in different ways:

Facebook and Twitter – used to refer friends, seek referrals and also to seek current employees’ perspectives

LinkedIn – referrals, perspective on an employer and connecting with an existing employee

Job seekers’ behavior is changing as candidates recognize that recruiters are looking at social media. Playing defense, if you will.

40% have modified some portion of their social media presence. Of those:

  • 17% have deleted accounts entirely
  • 17% have deleted some content from their accounts
  • 12% have untagged themselves in photos

The survey listed the things that recruiters find to be a negative in online profiles and the top three were profanity, use of bad grammar and punctuation, and alcohol use. They didn’t reveal the rest of the list but in talking to employers, we hear that evidence of racism, homophobia, harassment and general bad judgment can all be red flags.

The fact of the matter is that at any age, having a digital identity that is free of all negatives and professional looking puts candidates in the best position possible when it comes to the job market. Taking it a step further and making sure the online persona that you have out there makes you look professional and trustworthy is worth the time and effort it takes.

If you don’t get a job you’re interested in because of negative online content, you will never hear the real reason you were declined. Recruiters will just move on to the next candidate. There may be accounts online that you’ve forgotten about or don’t use any more, or content online posted by others about you. If you are unsure whether your online profile is up to snuff, we can help. Our one-time audit works for adults too!

 

 

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A Warning to Parents About YouTube and Pedophiles

I read an extremely troubling article this morning titled “YouTube Has A Teeny Foot Fetish Problem” at Vocativ, a website that according to them combines the “power of cutting-edge technology with a take-no-prisoners attitude toward newsgathering and storytelling”.

The article takes a look at pedophile fetishists who are targeting tweens on YouTube and having them act out fetishes. The article is troubling not only because of what the perverts are getting away with, but also because of what the author omits – YouTube’s age restrictions, and how lax YouTube is in policing its own policies. According to the article:

“Arlyn McConnell is only 11 years old, but she’s an active and adept user of YouTube. Especially when it comes to fending off the pedophiles who troll the site for child porn…

~

As [another] example, the [YouTube] flagger points to one 11-year-old girl, Jorja, who says she received 24 pervert messages in under six hours last week”

It doesn’t take long for me, a parent or any one else to find the following in YouTube’s Terms of Service:

“12. Ability to Accept Terms of Service

In any case, you affirm that you are over the age of 13, as the Service is not intended for children under 13. If you are under 13 years of age, then please do not use the Service. There are lots of other great web sites for you. Talk to your parents about what sites are appropriate for you.”

YouTube Deputy Program
YouTube Deputy Program

The YouTube flaggers referenced above are members of the YouTube Deputy Program, an unpaid group of volunteer YouTube users that are charged with the responsibility of ensuring that videos and comments posted comply with community guidelines. If they find content that does not comply, Deputies report it to YouTube. For reported videos such as the ones above, YouTube may be doing something about the pedophiles but it seems to be willing to overlook its own rule that users be over the age of 13.

We have no doubt that many or most tweens view videos on YouTube. It is probably the most frequently visited site by tweens. The difference between viewing a YouTube video and posting your own videos or comments is having a YouTube account. You can’t post videos without an account, and kids under the age of 13 are not supposed to have one.

YouTube needs to take more responsibility here in our opinion. They have stated that they will terminate the accounts of underage users unless a parent is supervising them. Since there is no effective age gate to join the site (there should be one), at a minimum YouTube should be more aggressive terminating the accounts of users known to be under 13, especially in the event that predators are targeting them.

If you are the parent of a tween, we strongly suggest that YouTube viewing by your child be highly supervised, and that tweens not have their own YouTube account under any circumstances.

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring teen internet activity.

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Are Your Kids Aware of Online Stranger Danger?

It’s no secret that your kids have more than one way to connect online. Once online, via computer, cell phone, tablet, iPod or gaming console, as long as there is a wifi connection or they’re using a phone they can also communicate with their friends. Screen Shot 2013-11-27 at 12.01.07 PMUnfortunately, cyberbullies or strangers, even those who may be predators, can also contact them.

My two boys, 14 and 15 years old, are big fans of online video games. I make it a point of spending some time with each of them to figure out who they’re communicating with online, with a frequent reminder that the other player in the chat box may not be who he claims or appears to be.

Last weekend, I sat down with my 14 year old while he was playing Minecraft, headphones on and the chat box open. This was the conversation as I remember it:

Me: “Who are you talking to?”

Kid2: “Taco.”

Me: “Who’s that?”

K2: “Some kid. I think he’s like a grade behind me.”

Me: “How do you know it’s not some 40 year old creeper.”

K2: “I just know.”

Me: “Where does he live”

K2: “You can’t ask that.”

Apparently, there’s an unwritten rule that you can’t ask online players their location or other identifying information. That is a terrific rule, unwritten or not.

Me: “What’s your screen name today?” (I know that he changes screen name from time to time to disguise his identity from the players who he’s familiar with.)

K2: “Stranger Danger.”

Me: “What? Do you know what stranger danger is?”

K2: In a gruff voice, “Hey kid, do you want some candy?”

We talked for a while longer and it was evident that he is very aware of stranger danger, and guards his own identity very closely when online. We also talked about cyberbullying, and he assured me that it hasn’t been an issue for him. Keep your kids safe, folks.

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring teen internet activity.

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Teen Online Problems – Headlines and Excerpts

teen-cell-phoneIf you have a teen or pre teen, chances are that he or she is doing something online, either on a computer or phone. While most parents spend at least a little time thinking about the safe or irresponsible things their kids might be doing online and on social media, it’s hard to wrap your mind around just how many ways the internet can get young people into trouble.

I was looking though some saved articles over the weekend and I pulled together a bunch of headlines and article excerpts form the last six months. That’s right – the last six months – and I’m sure I don’t see everything.

These can serve as a reminder to parents that depending on the age of your children, there are very good reasons to stay vigilant, and different things you need to watch our for.

For more information, you can follow us on Twitter and find links to the articles in our Twitter stream.

 

Utah Coach Suspends Entire Football Team Over Cyberbullying

– Bleacher Report 9/24/2013

300 partying teens who broke in and trashed house, documented it on social media

Daily Mail Online 9/22/2013

N.J. priest in sexting sting thought he was talking to 16-year-old boy, wanted to meet

– NJ Star Ledger 9/29/2013

Tests reveal 80% of parental controls fail to block all adult internet content

Daily Mail 9/22/2013

California school district halts use of school issued iPads after students hack filters

– L.A. Times 9/25/2013

Instagram threats lead to police presence at two NJ schools

Bluefield Daily Telegraph 9/22/2013

Man charged with raping teen girl he met through social media

-Fox Salt Lake City 9/20/2013

Paedophiles blackmail thousands of UK teens into online sex acts

The Independent 9/20/2013

Anonymous Q&A sites linked to teen suicides

– The Verge 9/17/2013

Justin Bieber imposter jailed after tricking children into stripping in front of webcam

Naked Security 9/18/2013

Guess who is monitoring Twitter and Facebook accounts more and more these days – college coaches.
-Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 9/13/2013

 

61% of Spanish kids aged 6 – 9 have their own Facebook account

EU Kids Online 9/2013

NJ pervert poses as teen girl in online chat room to lure young targets

– NJ.com 7/10/2013

Florida teen’s suicide marks the 9th in 14 months attributed to Ask.fm

BuzzFeed 9/11/2013

Sexting outbreak leads to police action at Vermont high school

– Burlington Free Press 9/10/2013

Nevada man arrested for attempting to post revenge porn of ex, who was 16 at the time

Daily Dot 9/10/2013

Study: Most Parents Worry About Kids’ Online Privacy — but Aren’t Doing Anything About It

– Time 11/20/2012

10 Abbreviated Teen Texts About Sex and Drugs Decoded

Yahoo 9/27/2013

“Social media is destroying our lives,” said the girl at the Grove.

“So why don’t you go off it?” I asked.

“Because then we would have no life,” said her friend.

Vanity Fair September 2013

20% of tweets reveal the tweeter’s location

Science Codex 9/3/2013

College students “only” sext 3x per month

– Business Insider 9/2/2013

Vancouver teen suicidal over cyberbullying

The province 6/22/2013

Teen arrested after tweet that included song lyrics was interpreted as a bomb threat

– Washington Times 7/9/2013

Cyberbullying can have deeper effect than conventional bullying

CNN 9/5/2013

High Schoolers Post Gang Initiation Beating On Facebook

– WPR News 6/4/2013

Canadian teen posts fake death threats on a dare

Medicine Hat News 9/2013

Louisiana teen charged after posting marijuana pic to Instagram

– KATC 9/4/2013

Online predators are targeting younger and younger kids

The Province 6/4/2013

California school district monitors kids’ social media

– CNN 9/15/2013

Facebook costing 16-34s jobs in tough economic climate

OnDevice Research 5/27/2013

Online bullying, teasing or gossip can be devastating and lead to depression, alienation and suicide ideation.

– Palo Alt Online 8/23/2013

Kansas high school class president suspended over sarcastic tweets

KSN 5/6/2013

Teen fired from job over racially insensitive tweet

– KTAR 7/19/2013

Entire Fraternity chapter gets suspended over Facebook posts about drug deals and nudes

Daily Dot 8/22/2013

NY teen jailed after Facebook bomb threat

– JTA 4/17/2013

Texas teen jailed for months after Facebook joke was construed as threat

WPTV 7/2/2013

California teen charged in High School sexting spree

– NBC 5/27/2013

Social Media posts can be used in court

San Jose Mercury News 8/16/2013

12 months probation for Florida teen who made school bomb threat on Instagram

– Gainesville Times 8/21/2013

Indiana police warn parents about Snapchat risks

WSBT 8/2013

25% of dating teens have been abused or harassed online

– Mashable 8/19/2013

Senator’s Son Used Homophobic, Anti-Semitic Language On Twitter

BuzzFeed 6/12/2013

Location based apps put young users at risk

– 8/14/2013

New law would hold Canadian parents of cyberbullies liable

Truro daily News 8/13/2013

Georgia teen could face 5 years in prison after social media threat

– Wetpaint Moms 8/12/2013

39% of employers now check social media before hiring

Career Builder 6/27/2013

Pennsylvania teen cyberbully’s conviction upheld on appeal

– Pennsylvania Legal Journal 8/6/2013

College coaches find lots of inappropriate content on students’ social media

Times Daily 8/3/2013

18 year old Pennsylvania teen gets probation for Facebook post saying friend had herpes

– The Sentinel 8/2/2013

Xbox Live’s age restrictions don’t work for kids or parents

8/1/2013

Two CT students charged with using anonymous Twitter accounts to cyberbully

– NBC 7/30/2013

Aussie students suspended over cyberbullying on Ask.fm

The Australian 7/28/2013

Teacher uses Facebook to pressure young students for nude photos

– Perth Now 7/25/2013

NJ Homeland Security warned parents about child online “sextortion”

NJ 101.5 7/23/2013

Teen girl arrested on child porn charges

– The Smoking Gun 7/18/2013

Canadian teens make video of consensual sex act, are charged with child porn

CBC 5/29/2013

NJ students in counseling after forming “White Girls’ Club” online

– NJ.com 5/10/2013

YouTube video of after school fight leads to student arrest

NBC Baltimore 5/8/2013

California teen arrested after online drug ring is broken up

– NBC San Diego 5/10/2013

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring teen internet activity.

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Geotags, Geolocation and EXIF Data – What Parents Need To Know

iphoneThe location data on your child’s cell phone could be putting him at risk. It could also put you at risk.

You or your children could be travelling the internet, or travelling the world with internet in hand, and leaving clues as to your location and not even know about it. Even if you do know about it, there may be risks that you haven’t considered, especially in the case of younger internet users.

First, a couple of definitions:

Metadata – data that provides information about other data, such as internet content

Geotag – Metadata added to pictures or other media that allows one to identify the location of said media

Geolocation – Identification of the real-world geographic location of an object using radar, a computer or mobile device via the internet

Check-in – a convention that allows social media users to inform other users of their location

In the case of check-ins, as users can do with Foursquare or Facebook and other apps or social networks, doing so alerts others as to your exact location. If your account is private, only your friends can see your location. If your account is public, anyone can see your location. Parents of younger users need to pay attention to both privacy settings and location data.

The most common places that location data is stored and potentially displayed, other than check-in platforms, are on photos taken with a digital camera or smartphone. The metadata is in the form of Exchangable Image File Format (EXIF) data.

If you take a photo with a digital camera and post it to the web using a photo sharing application or social network (Instagram, Flickr, Twitter…) or take one with a smartphone, the EXIF data you should be concerned with includes the GPS location of where the photo was taken and the date and time taken.

The main consideration for parents with respect to Geolocation data is predator risk. If your young son or daughter takes and posts an Instagram picture, for example, every Saturday morning at 9:00 AM at the same pace, do you really want a predator having that information?

iPhone-settingsTo disable the smartphone setting that automatically records EXIF data, take the following steps:

  • For an iPhone, go to Settings>General>Reset>Reset Location & Privacy
  • For most Android phones, go to Camera>Settings>settings>GPS off

We’ve previously discussed how Instagram Geotags Pose a Risk for Teens, and here are instructions for how to turn off geotags on Flickr. If you want to remove EXIF data from all pictures you’re taken in the past that are stored on your computer or device, here is a handy guide from makeuseof.com.

The list of potential risks for young internet and smartphone users is getting bigger all the time. If you’re a parent, let us know if we can lend a hand with anything.

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring teen internet activity.

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Localscope Exposes Minors to Predator Risk

localscopeAs a parent, you may not be fully up to speed on which apps your teen or tween is using, how the privacy settings on those apps work, or how they are set. (Related: social media and app resources for parents)

A new app called Localscope ups the predator risk level for your child if she is using certain apps and does not have the privacy settings and geolocation permissions locked down.

Localscope bills itself as a “location browser for your iPhone”. It’s a harmless app for innocent users who just want to find a restaurant or something to do close to where they are. If used by a predator, this app could expose your child to unnecessary risk.

Here’s how it works:

When a user opens the app, his device will determine the precise location of the user. If the user taps on the “search” function, he can look through a list of local restaurants, banks, gas stations etc. Results are then shown on a local map. This is the part of the app that is harmless.

When a user taps on the “discover” function, social media or app users nearby can be located by their location and account. For the purposes of protecting young users, parents should note that Localscope currently integrates results from Instagram, Picasa (pictures), Twitter and foursquare (location check ins).

instagram-geotagIn the picture on the right, the red pins are all recent activity by Instagram users in the immediate vicinity of our office in Flemington New Jersey. The picture highlighted appears to be of 4 young teen or pre teen girls. I’m sure their parents would be horrified.

In the case above, the girl who owns that Instagram account has it set at “public” (anyone can view her photos), and her geolocation tracking is on (adds photos to her, and other users’ Instagram map).

If minors have their accounts set to private, this is not an issue. If your teen or pre teen insists on having a public account, which we do not recommend, it is very important to have geotagging of photos turned off.

Variations on the same rule apply for Picasa, Twitter, foursquare or any other app which may lead unsavory characters to your front door, or places that your child frequently hangs out.

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring teen internet activity.

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Online Harassment and Predator Risk Checklist

We’ve written before about general guidelines to keep teens and pre teens safe when using the internet and social media, including a Social Media Handbook for Parents. This week we thought we’d do a deeper dive on what parents can watch for and kids can do to make sure they are not opening themselves up to being stalked, harassed, bullied or targeted by predators.

teen-cell-phoneCyber stalkers tend to be very computer savvy, and will use a variety of methods to try to gain your child’s trust if she becomes a target. As a parent, you can use these guidelines to ensure that your kids practice safe web surfing and communication:

Educate yourself – Unless you have at least a basic understanding of what social networks do, and what sites your son or daughter is going to visit, you’ll be hard pressed to help with the safety factor. Fortunately, the web has vast resources, including posts like this one and the Parent Resources section of our website, that can help you get up to speed on the basics.

Communicate – The process of educating your child about internet safety is not a one time event. Get used to talking to him early, before he gets immersed in online activity and thinks he knows it all. Keep up the conversation as his interests change and as popular sites and networks change.

Decide which sites and networks are age-appropriate – First of all, follow the posted age rules. The standard age limit for most networks is 13 years old, as dictated by the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). Take advantage of COPPA – it exists to give extra privacy protection to minors (and recourse for parents), not to keep them from having fun. Second, don’t spend too much time worrying what your kid’s friends are doing. Just because another 10 year old is using Instagram, doesn’t mean your 10 year old should be. The fact that you’re reading this means you’re probably ahead of most parents already.

Know what connects – Computers and cell phones are not the only devices with internet connections. Gaming consoles and handhelds as well as iPods also can have an internet connection, and allow communication between two or more people.

internet-privacyPrivacy settings – Most sites do not want users to be overly vulnerable, but do want access to as much of your information and activity as possible, so default privacy settings are usually set to public. It’s usually pretty straightforward set of clicks to change accounts to private (Google it if you have to), and we almost always recommend doing so.

Chat rooms – Kids, or people for that matter, don’t go to chat rooms to communicate with existing friends. They generally go to meet new people, or talk to new people about an area of common interest such as online gaming or other interests. Chat rooms are popular with predators because finding a common interest can be a first step in establishing trust with their prey, who may end up being your child.

The stranger factor – Just as you wouldn’t want your child talking to strangers in real life, strongly caution against them doing it online. There is no way to be 100% certain that the 14-year-old girl met on line is actually 14 years old, or a girl.

Photos – Selfies (self-taken photos) are all the rage. A cursory glance at Instagram would lead you to believe that teenagers have never had more fun. Posting pictures of yourself online or on a social network has never been easier.  Unfortunately, many online predators are looking for attractive young people to stalk. Encourage kids not to post too many pictures. Review privacy settings with your kids so that pictures are visible to friends only, buy keep in mind that if a friend tags or shares your child’s pictures, they may become visible to other users.

Avoid divulging location (even unknowingly) – Comments about where you are or where you are going, checkins on location-enabled apps such as foursquare or Facebook, geotagged photos on Instagram or even proudly mentioning which school you go to can all give information to an unwanted stalker.

stresses-studentNo real world meetings – As we’ve said above, there is no guarantee that a person met online is who they claim to be. Never allow your child to meet in person with someone met online.

Periodically check for yourself – Even if you’ve given your child the best possible training on staying safe online, it makes sense to check for yourself once in a while, and more often the younger the user is. Check phones and computers for new apps and networks, and recheck privacy setting on existing sites.

Bullying strategy – What do you expect your child to do if he is bullied online, or feels threatened? Stress often that you want to hear about it, and will be on his side. Your youngster quietly suffering is not the answer.

Most of the above apply to minors of any age. For younger kids, who may not be on full featured social networks but are using the web or apps, some extra layers of security might make sense for your family.

For younger kids:

Computers and devices in common areas only – Until you are absolutely sure of your child’s maturity level and decision making skills, keep computers and phones in common areas of the home where you can supervise, not behind bedroom doors. In terms of phones, this is especially true at night, when a phone in the bedroom can also lead to sleep loss.

Use a family email address – If you have been thinking about your child’s future, you probably secured an email address reflecting their name at an early age. Be careful not to let them use it too early, especially when signing up for online sites or services. A family email address that you can easily check is a better option.

Messages from strangers – These should be ignored at all times. Unless your child gave a person her email address, she shouldn’t get a mystery message.

Downloads/attachments – If your child receives an email with an attachment, she shouldn’t open it, even if the email looks like it came from an acquaintance. The friend’s account might have been hacked and any attachment may contain a virus, pornographic spam or be a phishing attempt. Even if she believes the sender and attachment are legit, she should ask you before opening it.

The internet changes quickly, and we would be remiss in implying that any set of safeguards is foolproof. Following the above guidelines, combined with an open line of ongoing communication between kids and parents, is the best path to online safety for minors.

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring teen internet activity.

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Instagram Geotags Pose a Risk for Teens

instragram-thirdparentInstagram has gotten big in a hurry. If you have a teenager, you may not even be aware of whether she has an Instagram account. Now owned by Facebook, Instagram has over 100 million active users, and 17% of teens recently surveyed claim that Instagram is their most important network. The odds are that if your teen has a smartphone, there’s a pretty good chance that she is using Instagram, and may not be following recommended best practices.

If your teen’s Instagram account is set to public, there is a risk that she could be stalked or harassed by another user, which should be a concern for parents, especially of younger teens. A separate, and not so subtle wrinkle has been getting press this month that should give parents even more pause – there are a large number of Instagram pictures that are geotagged, creating an added risk for users.

A Geotag is metadata added to a picture or other media that allows users, and not just the user taking the picture, to identify precisely where the picture was taken.

Localscope-screen-shotSimply put, if your teen’s Instagram account is public, and the geotagging function is enabled, not only can other users view her pictures, but they will know exactly where they were taken – your house, her favorite hangout or school.

Additionally, a new “near me” GPS-enabled app called Localscope allows users to identify all local photos taken within a certain radius of their device. Your neighborhood stalker or predator could have a field day with this.

What can parents or users who want to be safe do?

  • Encourage your teen to set her Instagram account to private
  • Turn off the GPS tracking function on your phone’s camera
  • Use the phone’s camera, not the Instagram camera, when taking pictures
  • If you insist on using the Instagram camera, make sure the “Add to photo map” setting is “Off” for each picture
  • Recheck your privacy settings each time you download an Instagram update

 

If your photos are currently geotagged you can undo the function for each picture by following the steps in this video:

Interestingly, Change.org has started a petition, currently over 75,000 signatures strong, urging Facebook to make the default setting private and turn off geotagging for all Instagram users aged 13 – 17.

Given Facebook’s historical lack of concern for users’ privacy, I’m not too optimistic about this petition changing Instagram’s terms of service or behavior. As with most internet safety issues, the best course of action is for parents to get involved and make sure that teens understand the risks of any network that they are using.

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring teen internet activity.

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Textbook Pedophile Sting Goes Down in Parsippany NJ

Screen Shot 2013-07-11 at 6.11.40 AM
Butterfly Fantasy

It’s nice to see a plan working when the issue is as serious as it is in this case. 19 year old David Reiser of Parsippany New Jersey was arrested Wednesday after posing as a 15 year old boy in a chat room in an effort to lure a 13 year old girl to his home.

The good news is that the 13 year old girl was actually an undercover detective. Rieser’s plan was to meet the girl at her house and take her to his home, where they could act out some scenes from online role playing game Butterfly Fantasy and then have sex.

We’ve written before about the risk of not knowing who your kids are playing with during their multi player online gaming, especially if they are communicating online. I assume that Reiser and the girl had played Butterfly Fantasy at some point, or at least were discussing the game in the chat room where the sting occurred.

If you are the parent of a teen or pre teen who is gaming online, even with a seemingly “safe” game, please be aware of the following:

  • Know whether the games your teen is playing enable player-to-player text or voice chat
  • Warn kids, as many times as it takes, that people online may not be who they seem
  • Convince your kids to never have a real world meet up with anyone they meet online

The most important elements are parents being aware of what kids are doing and with whom, and constant communication so that kids remain aware and vigilant.

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring teen internet activity.

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How Safe Is Online Gaming for Teens?

Lots of parents we talk to are aware of what games their kids are playing, on a console, handheld device or computer, and many of rz-tf2-2them have rules as to which games their kids can play and for how long. Very few parents we talk to have any idea of who their kids are playing online with.

We’ve written before about some basic guidelines for parents with a mind to keep their kids safe while gaming online. I thought I’d do something different this week.

My 15 year old son is a big time gamer, and his game of choice is Team Fortress 2, a First Person Shooter that he plays online both solo and with other people. He plays it almost exclusively on his laptop in multi player mode. I have spent time watching him play so I could get an idea of how safe and age appropriate it is but I asked him to write me a summary of the game, who he plays with and whether he thinks it’s safe.

Here it is, slightly edited for grammar and clarity:

Team Fortress 2 (TF2) is a first person shooter game created by Valve. It originally came out as part of The Orange Box bundle in 2007, at the same time as Half Life 2 and Portal. Today it is free to play, and averages over 60,000 players at a time playing. A player can select one of 9 different classes, join the RED or BLU team and attempt to complete an objective, like push a payload into the enemy’s base where it explodes, or control a central point for 3 tf2minutes.

 

On the computer, Team Fortress 2 is made possible by Steam, a gaming platform largely on PC. Through Steam you can interact with other players, purchase games and accessories, or play games you already have. Virtually anyone can send a friend request to anyone else, and after this request is accepted, you can talk with that person about whatever you want. You can even start a voice chat with them, if both of you have a microphone.

 

Most of the people you talk to will be complete strangers, and you have no way of knowing who they are or what their intentions are when they are talking to you. There is a possibility that some of these people are something like a child predator, and with a large portion of TF2’s community being underage, this could easily become an issue. Surprisingly, after over two years of playing the game and being involved in the community, I have not heard of any issues involving stalkers or predators. Neither the game nor Steam require you to give out any information about yourself, so it would be difficult for your average Joe to get online and stalk someone.

 

I would advise extremely young children who do not know the dangers of the online world to stay away, but if you are educated and smart online, predators/stalkers should not be a problem.

Screen Shot 2013-07-03 at 11.01.08 AMFirst of all, the game is rated M for Mature, which means it’s generally suitable for ages 17 and up. Since my 15 year old has been playing for 2 years, we won’t be winning any traditional Parent of the Year awards.

Second, it is instructive to note that he appears to believe that predator risk is limited to being stalked by someone who knows who you are in real life. While he has not divulged his real name online, as far as I can tell, a predator simply targeting teenage boys in Central New Jersey may see him as an appropriate target. His online anonymity has given him a false sense of security.

Third, there is no mention of bullying or foul language. From what I’ve seen, a lot of the communication that happens in MMORPGs could be considered bullying, and there is certainly no shortage of foul language. It doesn’t bother my kid but that doesn’t mean that it won’t bother yours, or that you want your kids exposed to it.

Putting aside that fact that 15 years olds shouldn’t be playing M rated games in the first place, we need to raise awareness with our teens that even if they don’t use their real names online, there may be people looking to figure out who or where they are and trying to connect in real life.

 

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