Connected Trust

Watching the movie Trust the other night reminded me of the real danger that teenagers are exposed to today as computers and the internet are increasingly becoming ubiquitous. Trust is about a family dealing with the aftermath of an online predator incidence.

In this dramatic thriller, British actor Clive Owen and young American Liana Liberato play a father and daughter who struggle to mend their relationship after an online predator threatens to tear their family apart. Trust is a must-see for parents with teenage children and all educators especially those who are interested in the use of modern technology in education.

Today, teenagers are connected 24/7; they are conversing with their friends using SMS, internet forums and chat facilities. Unfortunately, however, most parents are clueless about what their teenage children are doing with their mobile phone or computer. Trust is a stark reminder that 1) new media literacies are more important today than ever before, and 2) that the teaching of new media literacies must not be left only to school teachers or a particular group of people.

Although the teaching of new media literacy skills is everybody business, it must start from home. Parents must take an active role in talking to their children about the media in general and the internet in particular. In online environments, it is totally irresponsible to assume that children will be able to fend for themselves in the chaos of things. Teenage children need adult guidance so that they able to use the internet safely and responsibly. In online environments, parents must show the same level of protection that they provide their children offline.  Just because that the child is in the next room at home doesn’t mean that he or she is safe with the internet.

The school too has a lot to do. First, it must rethink it’s literacy emphasis. In some parts of the world, including the Pacific Islands, the school and the curriculum are doing very little in the areas of internet safety and new media literacies. There is an urgent need to expand our curriculum conceptualization of literacy to include skills that people need to succeed in today’s online culture.

The Internet Safety Teens website has a lot of useful information on internet safety. For the purpose of this blog post, however, I would like to highlight the common 5-stage technique that internet predators use to lure and deceive their victims:

  • In Stage 1 of the grooming process, Internet predators typically collect information from your profile or chat, disguise their own identity, and pretend to have common interests with you.
  • In Stage 2, they typically support your point of view in online conflicts or offline arguments that you tell them about, pretend to be the only person who understands you, and become your IM or chat buddy.
  • In Stage 3, they typically ask you to keep the friendship a secret, exchange email addresses and phone numbers with you, and use more adult-oriented language and materials.
  • In Stage 4, they typically talk more about adult experiences and sexual topics, gradually introduce more sexual photos and pictures into conversations, encourage you to be sexually curious, and to believe that sex between adults and minors is normal.
  • In Stage 5, they typically use threats of violence or public humiliation if you stop communicating or refuse to meet in person.
  • In the Final Stage of the grooming process, Internet predators achieve their ultimate goal of arranging a face-to-face meeting with you.

With online predator incidences such as the one in Trust, the internet and new media can quickly become victims of blame and suspicion. Stephanie Booth has written excellent and well-researched articles on the issue of internet predators. In one blog post, she writes:

don’t panic — the media make the whole online sexual predator issue sound much worse than it is; (they (teenagers) might even be more at risk offline than online if they’re “normal” kids who do not generally engage in risky behaviour, given that most perpetrators of sex crimes against minors are family members or ‘known people’)