-- Protecting Teens from the Dark Side of the Online World
by Stephen Wallace, M.S.Ed.
June 20, 2006
everywhere no doubt cringed at word that a 16-year-old Michigan girl recently
flew to the Middle East to meet a 25-year-old man she met on the social networking
site Myspace.com. While made more salacious by time (she was gone five days)
and distance (Jordan), the story mirrored many others highlighting the dangers
lurking in the shadows of the online world.
Free to all comers, forums such as Myspace, Facebook, Xanga, and Friendster provide easy access to anyone searching for e-mail addresses, cell phone numbers, or details about body type, sexual preferences, or alcoholic beverages of choice. And the information flow doesnt stop there. A recent Dateline NBC investigation of teen pages found scenes of binge drinking, apparent drug use, and sex acts.
Law enforcement officials are so concerned that at least two states, Connecticut and Massachusetts, are investigating the link between these sites and incidents of sexual assault. But theyre not going it alone. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) says that it has opened dozens of cases nationwide regarding activity on the sites and has received more than 500 complaints, including the following.
child predators arent the only problem and adults not the only perpetrators.
Young people themselves often use the Internet to taunt, criticize, harass,
intimidate, and gang up on each other. Like traditional bullying, cyberbullying
leaves many kids feeling unsafe, humiliated, angry
and perhaps looking
for revenge. Essex County, Massachusetts, District Attorney Jonathan W. Blodgett
told the Boston Globe, "Weve seen an increase in assault crimes
involving young people as a result of the computer. They go on and instant-message,
threatening each other, and it becomes assault the next day."
Still other teens surf porn sites online. According to a Teens Today study from SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions), more than one in four middle and high school students (27 percent) say they have used the Internet to view sexually explicit content.
So, what can parents do to keep their child safe? Wiredsafety.org offers some tips.
But parents cant go it alone. Just like in the real world, young people have a responsibility to protect themselves in the online world. i-SAFE America outlines for youth "The 4 Rs" of Internet safety.
i-SAFE also advises teens to take these precautions.
sure, the advent of the Internet and more recently of social networking
sites brought with it new opportunities for the meaningful exchange
of ideas and dialogue, better connecting young people to the wider world beyond
their front door. Bringing light to its shadows will make that world more
predictable and less risky.
Stephen Wallace, national chairman and chief executive officer of SADD, Inc (Students Against Destructive Decisions), has broad experience as a school psychologist and adolescent counselor. For more information about SADD, call toll-free 877-SADD-INC. or visit www.sadd.org.
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