Author Barbara Dee Shares Her Perspective on Internet Safety for Kids

Barbara Dee photo

Barbara Dee

The other day Zoey’s mom’s sent me an email.

A couple of weeks earlier, her daughter had begun emailing me about my second book, SOLVING ZOE:  “Hi I just finished reading probably the best book in the world called Solving Zoe it’s actually kind of funny because my name is Zoey with a Y.”

When I emailed Zoey back, she replied immediately, asking about my next book, TRAUMA QUEEN, describing her dog, inviting me to speak at her school. (Although she warned me, “Don’t get your hopes up because I will have to ask my principal if it’s OK.”). She also asked where I’d be signing books next, so she could meet me, and she told me the name of her town. It wasn’t nearby, so I told her that if she couldn’t make it to the TRAUMA QUEEN launch party, or to any of the book festivals I’d be attending this spring, I’d be happy to mail her a signed bookplate.

And then I paused. “Before you send me your address,” I wrote her, “PLEASE, PLEASE ask your parents first!!! Never give out your address to anyone online unless your parents say it’s okay. Okay?”

I waited uncomfortably for her reply, because if she emailed back with her home address, how would I know if she’d gotten permission? I wouldn’t—unless her mom wrote to me herself. (Which a few have in the past.)

For a tween author, it can be tricky having direct contact with readers. You want to be chatty, accessible, and kid-friendly. After all, it’s why kids are writing to you in the first place!

But I’m not a twelve-year-old kid. I used to be a teacher. I’m also a mom of three teenagers whose internet activity I worry about. So when tween readers email me their personal information (everything from where they live to where they go to school, their ages, the names and health of family members, even home phone numbers!), I think I have the responsibility to say something.

Obviously, authors aren’t bad guys, and if a kid is handing over personal info to their favorite author, there’s no risk. What I worry about is kids getting a little too comfortable sharing personal info with strangers. I think it’s part of my job to remind them about internet safety. But of course—and here’s the tricky part– I need to do it in a way that maintains the precious author/tween reader relationship. I can’t sound like a teacher. Or (especially!) a mom.

That’s why I was so delighted to hear from Zoey’s mom: “I have been monitoring the emails & just love it… My husband & I believe this is the “stuff” that make young people want to be “someone” (like an author )  I hope her many emails aren’t bothering you.”

No, Zoey’s Mom, they aren’t. I promise you, authors LOVE to hear from enthusiastic readers! We also love to encourage kids to be whatever kind of “someone” they want to be. Thank you for supporting Zoey’s passion for reading and writing. And thank you also for monitoring her emails to adults you don’t know personally. It means that authors—and I hope Zoey is writing to many others!– don’t have to worry about her safety online.

Until she becomes a teenager, but that’s another whole story.

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