First, some facts: According to a University of New Hampshire Youth Internet Safety Study, reports of incidents involving unwanted sexual advances towards children online dropped by 53 percent between 2000 and 2010. The same study also found that requests for offline meetings between adults and children, as well as other interactions deemed to be the “most upsetting” to children, declined between 2005 and 2010.
All of that is of course good news. The bad news? There are still dangerous people out there looking to prey on juveniles.
That’s why it is commendable that State Representative Liz Linehan (D-103) has brought this issue to the attention of local parents. While everyone should be cautious to not needlessly frighten children or become paranoid over every online interaction, vigilance is always necessary. Parents need to know what their children are doing, who they are talking to, and how they are using the Internet and social media.
The incident that prompted Linehan to take action (see page three for story) seems somewhat common. While invitations to meet offline have thankfully become somewhat rare, online predators still look for victims through chat rooms, popular social media sites, and even online video games, according to a study by the New England Journal of Public Policy. Some then encourage children to post compromising pictures of themselves in order to engage in what has become known as “sextortion,” where the predator makes threats in order to influence the child to continue posting or sending pictures.
This is, unfortunately, the world in which we live, and though it happens infrequently, it remains a very real danger.
That’s why monitoring devices are so important. Yes, it is imperative that parents speak to their children about the perils of the Internet in order to instill in them a healthy respect for the perils. But children are children and won’t always obey, especially when curiosity gets the better of them. Parents must fill in the gaps, making sure that their sons and daughters are not accidentally falling into the trap of a twisted individual looking to take advantage of a child’s naivety.
This balance can, of course, be tricky. How do you warn your child about very real dangers while also not filling them with unwarranted dread or a sense that evil lurks around every corner? How do you keep tabs on your children’s Internet usage while also showing that you trust them, especially as they enter their teenage years?
Technology can offer some solutions, as privacy settings and monitoring programs allow parents to more easily track what their children are doing online and to take pro-active steps when necessary. But perhaps the best solution lies in conversations with other parents, where ideas can be exchanged and past experiences shared.
All of us are in this boat together, trying to figure out how to navigate an invention that provides so many wondrous opportunities for learning and interaction, but also contains numerous pitfalls.
No one should live their life in constant fear. But staying aware of potential dangers is simply prudent, especially when children are involved.