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Thoughts on Online Safety for Kids and the tragedy of Nichole Cable

I woke up early this morning, excited to be down at the Fox25 Boston studio (@Fox25Mornings) to discuss online summer safety for kids with Sorboni Banerjee (@Sorbonified).  That was, until I read the AP News article about Nichole Cable.

For those that don’t know, Nichole Cable was a 15 year old girl from Maine that was tricked by a guy with a fake Facebook page.  She was kidnapped and killed.  A link to the article is here.  As a cyber security expert and father, this story breaks my heart.  I cannot imagine the sense of loss and grief that her parents must be facing.

But more than sad, this story makes me angry.  How did we let society get to a point that children are allowed to be online unsupervised? I am not judging Nichole’s parents.  They will judge themselves for the rest of their lives.  The frusting thought is that Nichole could have been one of millions of other children, maybe even my own!

During the news segment today, Sorboni and I posed the question, “How do we teach children to be skeptical of what is posted online?”  How do we help them understand that as much as this world can be a beautiful place, there are some terrible people lurking here… plotting and waiting to do us harm?  How do we take the events here and use them as a lesson to educate, and hopefully protect, others?  And I’m angry because as much as I see Nicoles’ death as a needless tragedy, I can’t seem to figure out the answer to these questions… thus leaving children at risk.

I think when it comes to Internet usage and kids, DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince (Will Smith, for the young crowd) said it best with their smash hit “Parents Just Don’t Understand”.  Most parents truly believe their children are safe. (They’re not) Most parents truly believe that their children are smart enough to know better. (They aren’t)

The only thing I can think of is that we as parents, educators, and society as a whole, need to start having serious, sometimes difficult, conversations with our children.  I don’t think we can, or should ban children from technology.  Knowledge, understanding, and appreciation of computers, the Internet, and other technology is critical for success in the world today.  I am not proposing we stop progress.  I am suggesting that as guardians of society, parents stop and learn about technology so that they can have real discussions with the children in their lives.  We need children to fully understand the power of the Internet, both good and bad.  And we need children to feel comfortable enough to come to us, their protectors, when they have questions or concerns.

While we work through the tragic death of Nichole Cable, I would like to suggest that we all pause for a moment to think about ways to prevent this tragedy from happening to more children and commit to ourselves that we, as parents, will no longer turn a blind eye when our children are surfing the web. –Rob


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