SafetyNet Step 6:
Never meet an online friend in person without a parent present
People often use the anonymity of the Internet to pose as someone
else. It is easy to do, given the voiceless, faceless character of the Net. Examples
abound of people misrepresenting themselves. In one of the more extreme cases, a woman
fell in love with a chat companion and got married. Shortly thereafter she found out that
her "husband" was really a woman (who avoided physical intimacy by indicating
she was HIV positive). Pedophiles often pretend that they are children to gain the
confidence of real children.
While your children obviously need to be aware of what can
happen, be careful how you present this concept. Children are naturally free and open with
everyone, and you certainly do not want them to have nightmares starring online fiends
masquerading as friends. But losing a little innocence regarding their online pen pals is
preferable to losing much more.
Because people may not be who they say they are, accompany your
children to the first real-life meeting of any online acquaintance. To be safe, be sure to
have this meeting at a public site. After you verify the person's identity, follow all the
usual friendship guidelines your family employs.