It’s no secret pandemic life has been hard on teenagers. In my home, I’ve got two teens (and a 10-year-old) who have missed out on a lot. Because my husband has asthma and zero sick time, we’ve been extraordinarily careful when it comes to COVID risk, and my kids—especially the teens—have struggled with it all.
While they miss sleepovers and dinners and going to see movies with friends, I am so thankful that they’ve been able to stay connected with friends through technology. It does my heart good to hear my 17-year-0ld laughing and yelling with his friends as they play video games online together or to hear my 14-year-old daughter working on her science fair project together with a girlfriend over FaceTime.
Technology is awesome. Mostly. Except for when it’s not. Except for when lonely teens in a pandemic reach out for any kind of connection and find danger instead.
One example of this not-awesome technology is the popular chat site, Omegle.
Omegle is a website, not an app, that literally encourages users to talk to strangers. And you only have to be 13-years-old to sign up.
You guys, I am not kidding, if you Google Omegle, the first search result is: “omegle.com – Omegle: Talk to Strangers!” Talk to strangers is their literal tagline! I worry about Omegle at this particular point in time because so many of our kids are feeling lonely and cut off their peers. If ever there was a time that “talk to strangers” might seem appealing, it’s now.
When you click over to Omegle.com, it says right there on the home page: “Omegle (oh·meg·ull) is a great way to meet new friends, even while practicing social distancing. When you use Omegle, we pick someone else at random and let you talk one-on-one. To help you stay safe, chats are anonymous unless you tell someone who you are (not suggested!), and you can stop a chat at any time. Predators have been known to use Omegle, so please be careful.”
Ummm. . . . did you read that last line? On their actual site? That’s a HARD PASS!
Sign up for Omegle and you’ll be matched with a stranger to chat. Conversations are anonymous unless users decide to reveal their identity.
So basically, 50-year-old Scary McGary can be chatting with your 14-year-old, telling them he’s their age. It’s not cool, and NOT worth the risk!
Users can also choose if their chats are unmoderated or moderated. Basically, if your kids use Omegle and choose unmoderated, they’re at risk of seeing very inappropriate adult content within the conversation at best. At worst, they’re in danger of being targeted by a predator.
As if that isn’t bad enough, Omegle also has an adult-only site, and all you have to do is click that you’re over 18 to jump on into that online world. There’s literally no barrier to your younger teens clicking that button and opening themselves up to new dangers.
Moms and dads, for safety’s sake, we’ve gotta make sure our kiddos aren’t logging on to Omegle.
Again, Omegle is not an app, so monitoring your child’s phone isn’t necessarily going to prevent them from using it. I know as parents we are quick to monitor our kids’ phones, but we can’t forget about computers and tablets!
In the case of sites like Omegle, education is prevention. Don’t wait for your children to hear about how cool Omegle is from a friend and try it out for themselves. Now that you know about it, tell them that it exists and they don’t have permission to be on it. Calmly go over the red flags and use it as a time to reiterate your home’s online safety rules. In situations like this, it’s always better to be safe than sorry and to get out ahead of the potential pitfalls.
Have you had any online safety issues with your kids? What are some internet and device usage rules you employ to help keep them safe?