Harry Potter Teaches Internet Safety

We devoured the Harry Potter books as they came out over the last decade and I wanted to share one of the “teaching moments” that I came up with after reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets out loud for the 3rd time.

I mention the number of times I read the books out loud to highlight the familiarity my son had with the storyline and characters. For Asperger’s children who are not so literary-bent, who prefer the movie genre, the lesson might not be as apparent. Face it, JR Rowling took the time to develop characters and their relationships way deeper in her heavy tomes than any two and a half hour movie ever could.

So after the third time, my Asperger’s child understood that the Diary in the Chamber of Secrets was basically a portal into the mind of an evil personality.

At about that same time, the dangers children face on the internet hit the media hard. I dutifully coached my son on not sharing his name, address, or personal details on the internet and of course he agreed, almost without thought.

His nonchalance concerned me. I was afraid he could be tricked into divulging information. So for the kid who could sit through his mom reading the same book three times, I told him a story.

He was having fun on Club Penguin, a popular kid’s website. Players can register either to be limited to canned statements or to type in their own dialog. I asked if he got used to seeing the same players and he agreed they seemed like friends after awhile. I wondered aloud if they asked what state he lived in if he’d tell them, and he thought he might.

I led him through a fantasy where the other player might find out where he lived and then might write my son that he lost his puppy just a block away from our house. Could my son see himself taking off to help look for the puppy?
Maybe not even bothering to tell me? Of course! He’s always helpful.

Then I hit him with the real message: what if the cartoon character talking to him on Club Penguin was really just like the evil Voldemort writing to Ginny Weasely or to Harry Potter through the Diary in the book the Chamber of Secrets. Did Harry and Ginny know how evil the Diary was? Noooo. Why not? Because the evil Diary pretended to be nice and friendly. All Harry or Ginny could see was the friendly writing, answering their questions, gently probing. Even Rowling’s readers don’t know how evil the Diary is the first time they read the book.

Asperger’s kids are very bright and did I see a light go on behind his eyes with this analogy. All of a sudden he saw that it might not be another 3rd grader working the controls of a character on a website. It might be an evil Voldemort looking for victims. By putting the dangers in terms of a fiction book, I didn’t have to elaborate on the possible real-world evils that lurk on the internet. Voldemort and his evil Diary helped my son become more street smart, vigilant and aware.

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