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The Internet - A Dad's Advice for Daughters




Excerpted from
Boys Will Put You on a Pedestal (So They Can Look Up Your Skirt) : A Dad's Advice for Daughters
By Philip Van Munching

Faking people out is really easy on the Internet. When you're online, all anyone knows of you are words on a screen. They don't see your face, they can't hear your voice, they can't tell your age, sex, location, or anything else about you. The Internet is one big honor system... where you'll find out a lot of people aren't that honorable. Think you're talking to a cute fifteen-year-old boy from the high school in the next town? Surprise! He's really a fifty-year-old freak who wants you to meet him at the mall. That young cancer patient in Texas? She's an attention-starved housewife from Montana. There are all kinds of ways to fool folks . . . and if somebody gets caught in a lie online, they can just change their screen name and pretend to be someone else.

That's an easy thing to do, because people online are anonymous; you have no way of being sure of who they really are. Anonymity is what gives people the courage to make prank phone calls and send unsigned letters. The fact that they probably won't be caught helps them do things they would never own up to, you know? Sometimes those things are well-intentioned, like an anonymous note to warn a friend that she's got scary breath. Other times-most times-things are done anonymously because they're cruel, like scratching a nasty name onto some guy's locker when no one's around.

Anonymous things done online can be especially awful, because the Internet is a great way to spread horrible rumors at lightning speed. My friend has a daughter in seventh grade, and when her middle school set up a bulletin board on its website, it was promptly filled with gross (and untrue) stories about a certain girl having sex with a teacher in the school bathroom. When my friend's daughter posted something in defense of the girl, she was quickly called a "lying slut" on the board. Hundreds of people saw those posts, and my friend threatened to sue the school if they didn't drop their online bulletin board.

What really freaks parents out about the Internet, though, is that anonymous people-strangers-have such easy access to our kids. In our own homes. Think about it. If some random person you'd never met called on the phone and started trying to talk to you about school or your friends or what you like to do, you'd hang up on them fast. But if that same person found their way into a chat room you were in, and responded to things you were saying to friends, you might very well start talking to them, because that's what people do in chat rooms. Next thing you know, you're instant-messaging with them. If they seem fun or nice, you could start to trust them and the things they tell you about themselves . . . and maybe you'd start telling them things about you. Maybe-and this is what keeps your parents awake at night-you might decide there wouldn't be any harm in meeting them.

If you do any of that stuff with someone you know only from a chat room, it means you've forgotten one of the first and most important things your folks ever taught you: don't talk to strangers.

Of course, even talking to people you know can be tricky online. You've already seen this stuff happen: friends who get annoyed if you don't respond to them quickly enough, or if they think you're instant-messaging someone else instead of them. Thanks to Buddy List boxes, it's harder and harder to have time to yourself online, or to hide from people you don't want to deal with. I know, I know; you can block certain people from seeing when you're signed on. That works as long as they don't find out you're chatting with someone else and realize you've blocked them. Then you're really in trouble.

My daughter Anna struggles with how to avoid certain people when she's online. She's got this one girl in her class, Janey, who always has to have a victim to torture so she can create a little drama. (You know the drill: Janey picks on a girl mercilessly until the girl turns around and yells at her, and then Janey cries, "You're so mean to me!" and her little group of followers all back her up. Anna's probably the fifth girl to be in Janey's gun sights this year alone.)



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