Book Review – Cybertraps for the Young
At The Online Mom we are very high on technology, constantly marveling at the opportunities it presents in the home, the workplace, at school, or on the road. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t sensitive to the dangers of technology, particularly when it comes to our children.
How many ways can kids get into trouble with tech? Well, judging by Frederick S. Lane’s informative and well-written new book, Cybertraps for the Young, the list is almost endless. From identity theft, computer fraud, and hacking to cyberbullying, sexting and child pornography, there are an enormous number of “traps” for our kids to fall into – many of them with extremely serious consequences.
The inspiration for Cybertraps for the Young came from Mr. Lane’s experiences as both a member of the Burlington (Vt.) School Board and as an attorney and expert witness in the complex field of computer forensics. In both positions, he has had ample opportunity to witness first-hand the impact that technology can have on young lives, and not always for the better.
The book begins by explaining to parents how different today’s web-enabled, always-connected society is from the one we grew up in; how our kids are born into a world of smartphones, video game consoles, digital cameras, and iPads; and how these powerful devices encourage experimentation and decision-making that is not always in a child’s best interests.
In describing some of the tools that are available to kids, like instant messaging and video chat rooms, Mr. Lane is neither too detailed nor too superficial, making sure that parents with varying degrees of technical expertise fully understand the sophisticated technology that our kids have at their disposal.
Once he has set the scene, Mr. Lane dives straight into the “cybertraps” that are the main topic of the book. Starting with intellectual property theft and finishing with sexting and “sextortion,” the book is an exhaustive and often disquieting encyclopedia of what can go wrong.
It’s in these sections that Mr. Lane brings his extensive legal experience to bear, describing in precise details the individual traps, the scope of each problem, the potential consequences, and what parents can do to prevent their child from getting into trouble in the first place.
Although some offenses, such as plagiarism and hacking, are relatively easy to describe in criminal terms, others are not so straightforward. Like many before him, Mr. Lane struggles to precisely define more recent digital age phenomena such as cyberbullying and Internet addiction.
Of course, these cyber-age terms have their origins in offline behavioral issues, which Mr. Lane implicitly acknowledges in his analysis of cyberbullying:
“The first step in determining whether your child is a cyberbully is to simply pay attention to his or her interaction with friends (and with you). What type of things does your child say about other kids? When your child’s friends are around, do they routinely make fun of certain people? Do they tell jokes at the expense of others, or mock particular characteristics of their classmates? If your child has a habit of doing so, it could be a first warning sign that abusive behavior is also taking place online.”
And here we have the major takeaway from the book as far as parents are concerned: If your child engages in illegal, risky or bullying behavior offline, then there is a very good chance that he or she will indulge in the same illegal, risky, bullying behavior online.
This notion is very important to keep in mind as you get to later sections of the book, particularly the ones dealing with monitoring your child’s online and cellphone activity. There is an underlying assumption in the book that you should regard your child as guilty until proven innocent, rather than the other way around. Few allowances are made for the millions of sensible, well-adjusted tweens and teens that have absolutely no intention of taking naked pictures of themselves or setting up false Facebook pages to harass the new girl at school.
Despite the tendency to expect the worst of our kids (not surprising, given the author’s extensive exposure to teen misconduct), the book does an admirable job of drawing attention to all the pitfalls associated with modern-day technology. It finishes up with an invaluable list of do’s and don’ts for parents. “Don’t buy your child technology before they’re ready” and “Don’t stop educating yourself” may be familiar advice for parents but they bear repeating at every opportunity.
All in all, Cybertraps for the Young is an excellent reminder of the inherent dangers of putting powerful web-connected devices into the hands of often immature and impulsive tweens and teens. Like sex education or learning to drive, it’s not an option to just let them muddle through until they get the hang of it. Parents need to be knowledgeable, vigilant, and involved.
Cybertraps for the Young is published by NTI Upstream and is available at Amazon.com and other online booksellers.