The internet and social media make it easier than ever for neighbors to connect remotely. Both young and old alike can interact online. While this convenience makes grown-ups more accessible to each other, it also makes children more accessible to predators. The good news is there are ways that grown-ups can actively protect their young neighbors from harm in our online neighborhood groups. Here are a few tips for protecting neighborhood children online:
1. Don’t list the names or ages of children in your neighborhood directory, even with their grown-ups’ permission.
Listing names and ages of children anywhere in the public eye puts them in view of potential predators. Leave the names of neighbors under 18 out of the neighborhood directory. This information can easily fall into the hands of people who will use it to harm minors.
2. Don’t post photos of any child’s face in public online groups.
While it’s nice to include young neighbors in the fun events going on in the neighborhood, going to the online neighborhood group and posting photos of kids at the event can be unsafe. It gives predators too much information on how to find, groom, and exploit children. Once an image is shared online, it can never truly be removed, and anyone could gain access to it.
Caregivers (rightfully) expect to be asked permission before their child’s photo is taken by someone else. They should be able to sign a release saying whether it’s permissible for their child to be photographed and/or for their photo to be shared online. Without a signed photo release, photos of children should not be taken and definitely not shared online.
3. Do protect the anonymity of children in all online content.
Any references made to young neighbors in online conversation, photos, videos, and other content should be kept anonymous. Instead of referring to children online by using their real names, use something more general, like an initial or just as a “young neighbor.” It is respectful, polite, and loving to address neighbors under 18 as such. Leave their first names, last names, and ages out of photo captions. Protecting the safety of young neighbors is a great way to show you care.
4. Do communicate with the grown-ups responsible for children rather than interacting online with neighbors under 18 years of age.
Any messages for young neighbors should be communicated through the grown-ups responsible for them. It is not appropriate for adults to communicate one on one with minors, online or otherwise. Babysitting needs can be communicated using group messages that include their grown-ups. Snow removal or landscaping help from young neighbors can be arranged in the same way. Always include a young neighbor’s grown-ups in your communication or choose to communicate exclusively with their grown-ups as a safety precaution.
Protecting the safety of young neighbors in online neighborhood groups is a loving way to share hope and care among neighbors. What other internet safety guidelines would you suggest for protecting our young neighbors?