If you’ve got a pre-teen or tween daughter on email, then they are getting chain letters. Most of these aren’t too different from the ones we used to send in the postal mail: you have to add names to the list and forward the message to others; you have to take action quickly or “bad” things will happen to you; if you do participate, good things will happen to you, and so on. The list of threats or treats varied but the basic premise was the same; follow a series of instructions created by a stranger, share your personal contact information with strangers and do so quickly, before you have time to think about it.
We parents can recognize the potential for harm here. We want our children to think BEFORE they act. Or in the language of the National Cyber Security Alliance’s internet safety slogan, “Stop. Think. Connect.” Crossing the street gets a similar cautionary instruction to “Stop. Look. Listen” before proceeding.
I don’t like chain letters and here are five reasons why:
They’re too scary - The language can truly be frightening. Some children are very sensitive and might believe bad things will happen, such as pets dying or relatives getting sick. I love a good spooky story as much as anyone so make sure your children know these stories are fiction!
Undermines privacy - Sharing your email address and name with strangers is bad, potentially dangerous. We need our children to begin guarding their privacy as soon as they get online. Chain letters undermines that training and it happens so naturally, kids don’t even realize they’ve done it. This can lead to spam, phishing emails and worse, identity theft.
Following instructions blindly- your kids should never follow instructions blindly. Usually kids trust the chain letter because it’s from a good friend. The adult versions of these chain emails, also forwarded by friends, often promote virus hoaxes and get otherwise smart adults to delete important computer files, install malicious scam security software and send the hoaxes to hundreds of their friends.
Promotes magical thinking – we need to promote logical reasoning with our children as a method to reach conclusions. Some of the tales told in the chain letters and hoax emails don’t pass the most basic “sniff test” of adult thinking: “_____ is giving you $5 to test their email program?”“A shoe company is giving everyone on _____ a free pair?”“You won’t believe what this girl did when her dad walked in?”We all need to stop believing wild claims or enticing intro’s and use our heads before we click or respond to an internet offer.
They waste resources – and not just time. An email forwarded to 100 people is 100 emails. Forwarded another time, that’s 100x100 or 10,000 emails in the second round. By the third round it’s already being emailed to 1,000,000 people. So there’s the wasted cost of internet storage and bandwidth to spread this silliness, not to mention time wasted reading and forwarding them. Next, some of the chain letters ask for real world items to be sent such as postcards or business cards to a sick child, or social network likes to get a heart donated for a child. Even if the original story is real, the unending cycle of these chain letters perpetuates old news and inundates the recipient long past the end of the program.
So please speak with your children to educate them about not getting involved with chain email letters. They should just delete them when they receive them. And make sure you’re doing the same with the ones you get.