“If there's not any endgame, we're in quicksand. We take one more step, and we're still there, and there's no way out.”
This article is inspired by the recent allegations against Rabbi Jonathan Skolnick. I do not know this person, but I would like to use this article to show parents some takeaways from this case. There are lessons here that we need to teach our children, as well as ourselves. For those of you who are not yet familiar with the story, feel free to click here.
The allegations against Rabbi Skolnick are disturbing. According to allegations he posed as a 14 year old girl online. He is accused of using this fake profile to befriend at least one 14 year old boy and get this boy to send him nude pictures of himself. Once Rabbi Skolnick had these pictures, he (allegedly) threatened the boy by telling him that if the boy did not send more pictures, the pictures that the boy had already sent would be made public.
There are a few important takeaways that we need to take from this case:
1. Nothing Online is Private
This is something that not only do we need to teach our children, but we ourselves also need to recognize. Nothing online is private. Anything we send online has the potential to be made public. We can never be sure who is at the other end of the message we sent. We don’t know who might find a lost phone. We never know if someone is peeking over a shoulder.
Someone might even be viewing a snapchat in one hand while recording it with a camera in the other hand.
If you don’t want it to become public, don’t send it via sms, mms or any other digital or online method.
Maybe you will want to take it one step further. Assume that anything you send online will one day become public.
2. Avoid the Quicksand
Let me explain what I mean. You do something wrong. You know you might get into trouble for it. Don’t do something even worse in an attempt to avoid getting into trouble for the smaller infraction.
AND IN A SITUATION WHERE YOU ARE BEING BLACKMAILED, DO NOT DO SOMETHING THAT WILL GIVE THE BLACKMAILER MORE AMMUNITION!
I have heard about children online being blackmailed into sending pictures long before I heard of Rabbi Skolnick. Sometimes the blackmailer has actual pictures, sometimes they bluff. Nevertheless, one (child or adult) should never give something that can be used against them when being blackmailed.
How Parents Should Approach the Subject with their Children
The issue that I am hearing from parents is a legitimate one. How can I discuss these issues with my children? I don’t want to give off the impression to them that I think they are doing the wrong thing online and I don’t want to give off the impression that I am ok with them speaking with girls/boys online.
To people with this concern I suggest that you make these lessons more general.
● Don’t send an email making fun of a teacher if you don’t want the teacher to ever see it.
● Don’t send a video doing something that will embarrass you if grandma ever saw it.
● Don’t agree to do something wrong/illegal because someone is threatening to harm you (or your reputation) if you don’t.
● If someone is willing to blackmail you because they have something against you, giving them more that they can use against you will only make things worse.
The allegations in the aforementioned case are sickening. Let’s try to use it as a teaching moment.
More importantly, let’s try to make this a teaching moment which protects our children without causing them too much fear, panic, anxiety and distrust.
Yisroel Picker is a Social Worker who lives in Jerusalem. He has a private practice which specializes in working with people of all ages helping them understand their own thought processes, enabling them to improve their level of functioning, awareness, social skills and more.
To speak with Yisroel about speaking at a child safety event or to discuss a personal case, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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