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How to Help Kids Deal with Betrayal Online

One of the most poignant tales I’ve heard from an internet user was that of a tearful 6-year-old girl expressing the betrayal of trust she felt when another child, whom she thought was a friend, used her password and stole items she had earned through game play.

While this little girl’s personal heartbreak will unquestionably fade as larger disappointments take its place, as parents we never want children to feel the disappointment of betrayal, or the loss of innocence.

Since we cannot always protect children from their own actions or the actions of others, youth need to learn resiliency and the skills needed to protect themselves, as well as when and how to set firm boundaries and how to get help when assistance is called for.

Building Resilience

One way to build resilience is to use negative incidents to create teachable moments. Ideally you will be able to help your child turn tiny tragedies into lifelong learning that can eventually protect them from far greater tragedies.   

Start young. One of the first places kids experience social interactions online is through gaming sites that are designed for kids, including sites like Club Penguin, Webkinz and Moshi Monsters. These sites go to great lengths to not only create a safe gaming experience but to actively moderate user behavior.

Unfortunately, and in spite of the advice posted on these websites, many children (and teens and adults) believe sharing passwords is recognition of friendship or devotion. It isn’t. It’s disrespecting their own, and their friend’s privacy. There is a reason websites require users to keep their passwords private; far too many issues arise when others can access another person’s account.  A teen girl once explained that when her boyfriend asked her for her password, she gave it to him and then immediately changed it. The better approach is to say no up front. Friends don’t ask friends for passwords.

There are many other forms of online betrayal: friends who have a falling out and then use private information to trash your child among their peers, cyberbullies who choose your child as the target, websites that exploit user information and so on. Each of these can be very painful, yet each can also be a teachable moment, providing a stepping stone to greater resilience and an opportunity to become stronger, smarter internet citizens.