From the time kids are toddler age, parents help in forging their friendships, whether it’s play dates at the park or in a toy-strewn living room.
So when your teen tells you they want to take an Internet friendship — with someone they’ve only met virtually through social media or video games — to the next level by having actual human contact, it raises the question: Should you facilitate the meeting or fret about it?
For Debra Spark, taking her then 13-year-old son to meet a 16-year-old online friend in a different state was something she never thought she would do.
Spark, a professor at Colby College in Waterville, Maine, described her reluctance and ultimate acquiescence: My “creep” feelers went out.
I flashed on stories of predators who entrap young adults through false IDs, of adults who imagine they are IMing with a pretty Russian girl, only to discover they are corresponding with a robot, eager less for love than a credit card number. ” Teens and parents have different views of online friendships because they have different ideas of what socializing should look like, says danah boyd (who doesn't capitalize her name), author of “It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens.” More From Today: Should Kids Wear School Uniforms?
Still it would be fun to have Aidan with me at the literary festival. Parents, who tend to be less comfortable with social media and other online technologies than teens, can’t help but fear that when online relationships evolve to in-person interactions, they are inherently dangerous or risky because they involve “strangers.” “As parents, we have a responsibility to protect our children.
When I agree to Aidan’s request, it’s with an awareness of how questionable my judgment sounds. You magnify that with a whole set of anxiety-driven fears that are produced by the media,” says boyd.
“We think of all the horrible things that could happen with strangers.
It makes you want to lock them up in a padded room until they are 18.“ What parents don’t realize, boyd says, is that the vast majority of teens socialize online with people they already know.And they tend to meet new people through those people.Among their categories of friends — school friends, church friends, camp friends — "online friends" are just another group.Most teen online relationships made through interest-driven practices (such as a video gaming or fashion blogging, for example) typically stay online, says boyd, and there is no reason or desire to make a connection further.“But in a small percentage of those cases, you may find out you have more in common,” says boyd, who describes a hypothetical scenario where an online relationship may go deeper.“Not only do you both like to blog about fashion but then you discover you both like One Direction and you both play basketball, and, hey, my school team is playing your school team so let’s meet up in person.” Spark’s son Aidan bonded with his online friend in a similar manner.