In some cultures, knowing a person’s name suggests understanding that person so intimately as to have power over them. For this reasons, ‘true names’ given at birth are kept secret, with nicknames taking their place for everyday use.
Though most of us don’t share those superstitions, we would be wise to think in a similar way when using the internet. Identity fraud is one concern. Another is child safety.
Knowing a name can give an online predator obvious advantages. It means that they may be able to find out information about where your child lives, especially if they can pick up clues from conversation about other apparently innocent topics like school and sporting activities.
Even if all they know is a first name, it can be problematic because it can contribute to a false sense of intimacy between them and your child, and it can sometimes give your child the impression that that person has power over them.
A good tip for improve your child’s safety online is to encourage them to use a name (and email address) which doesn’t give away their true name. If you don’;t want to scare them by talking about the risks, present this as a sort of game.
Encourage them to think of themselves as a slightly different person, a person who is doing some pretending, when they are online. This will also make them less likely to give away other personal details.
Assure them that pretending like this is not the same as lying and that it’s okay because they don’t need o take the world of chat rooms too seriously. Tell them that real friends they make there will understand this.
An online safey tip for extra security is to encourage your child to pick a name which is gender neutral. Although boys as well as girls can be at risk from online predators, female names in chat rooms can attract a lot of sexual attention from people who might not otherwise think of approaching a child that way.
Even if conversations will potentially reveal whether your child is a boy or a girl, the simple ambiguity of the name will help to keep a lot of potential trouble at bay.
Names are a central part of who we are, and when we go online we experience ourselves differently, so new names are appropriate. Encourage your children to be creative in picking the right name for the online game.