When I was a kid, I was told “Don’t talk to strangers, don’t take candy from strangers, don’t get into a car with a stranger.” When my kids were young, I told them similar things, plus I taught them to avoid the dangers from the nascent world of social media. Just a few years later and, as we all know, social media is omnipresent.

When I look at the Instagram accounts of people I know, if I see someone make a clever comment, but I don’t recognize that person’s user name, I sometimes click to see who they are. Once on their profile page, I might see their real name, or other clues. If they have an open account, I can see all of their posts. If they have a private account, I cannot.

The other day, I did that, and found myself on the profile page of a 15-year-old girl. Her account was not private and without even scrolling through her pictures, I was immediately able to see her (and friends) posed in bikinis. I looked up to the top of the profile page and saw her Instagram stats: she follows about 500 people, and is followed by about 2,600.

What that means is she follows the Instagram posts of about 500 people, many of whom she knows from school or summer camp, or through a degree or so of separation (friend of a friend, etc.) She may follow celebrities. And she may follow others she doesn’t know personally.

It’s the 2,600 people who follow her that is disturbing. Over 2,000 are people she doesn’t know. Two thousand creepy people who want to see bikini photos of a 15-year-old. (And if that’s not disturbing enough for you, I’m sure I could have found younger kids than that.)

It’s amazing to me, with all that’s been written about internet predators, there are so many kids continuing to put themselves out there in inappropriate, and potentially dangerous, ways. And I blame the parents almost entirely.

This teen’s parents need to make sure she is blocking access from every one of those 2,000-plus people, and blocks future voyeurs by making her account private (which allows only people you specifically permit to follow you.)

If my teen objected, or if I found he or she continued this behavior behind my back, I would cancel their account and further restrict their on-line access. I would also take them for therapy to help them get a better handle on themselves so they don’t feel the need or desire to have creepy people checking them out.

With this teen, and so many others without private accounts, whether through t-shirts they wear with info about their school or town, or through location tags they place on their posts, I can figure out in five minutes almost exactly where they live, where they goes to school, what activities they takes part in after school, where they vacation, and more. And I’m an amateur. A predator can use that information to trick an unsuspecting kid into thinking they are an acquaintance—and that can lead to terrifying consequences. And if parents or other responsible grown-ups don’t do something fast, the situation will only get worse, and become more irreversible.

If we are fortunate enough that nothing happens to these kids relative to predators, their next challenge may be having their on-line presence impact their college acceptances, and later their employment prospects. (Employers are not supposed to use that information but many do, and I once heard a speaker say at an evening program for high school parents, once the toothpaste is out of the tube, you can’t get it back in—once those photos are out there, you can’t get them back.)

Maybe Marcie and I were clueless about what my kids were doing (our youngest two are now 20). I don’t think we were. But if we were it wasn’t for lack of trying. Please, parents, get a handle on what your kids are doing with social media. Create rules, and make sure those rules are being followed.

I was thinking of titling this piece “Attention Pedophiles, Free Access to Underage Pics” as an attention grabber. Of course, I don’t want to teach Pedophiles how to find underage photos, but I wouldn’t be doing so—they already know where to find this stuff. Responsible parenting requires parents to wake up and pay attention to what their kids are doing.

What are you doing to protect teens? Join the conversation with your comments…

Best regards,