Kids, Computers & Predators

Here’s a bit of information that ought to give any parent with teenagers something to think about. There’s a one in five chance that your kid has a blog.

Nearly three in five school-age teens with Internet access have created online content, including Web pages with artwork, photos and stories — and about a fifth have their own blogs, which also allow friends and other readers to create feedback postings.

Those are some of the findings from a survey of 12- to 17-year-olds conducted by the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

The survey also found that older school-age girls with online access were most likely to keep a blog. About a quarter of girls, ages 15 to 17, did so, compared with 15 percent of boys in that age group.

That’s not news in and of itself. It goes without saying that kids are very computer savvy these days, often moreso than than their parents. (I may have a bit of a head start with Parker, but I’m sure he’ll catch and surpass me at some point.) However, it does raise some important questions about how much unsupervised time kids spend online — and the dangers therein — when taken in context of a story the hubby and I were discussing last night concerning kids and online predators.

A rabbi for a national youth group based in Rockville and a Prince George’s County special education teacher have lost their jobs after they were allegedly videotaped by a hidden camera as part of a forthcoming “Dateline NBC” story about men who try to solicit sex from minors online, officials said yesterday.

…The “Dateline NBC” show is scheduled to air tonight. According to video excerpts that NBC officials provided yesterday and a summary posted on “Dateline’s” Web site, a crew conducted a sting operation with the help of an Internet watchdog group, Perverted Justice.

Adult members of the watchdog group pretended to be 12- to 14-year-old children chatting online and waited to see whether adults would contact them to solicit sex, NBC officials said. According to the program excerpts and NBC officials, many men did so, and 19 men visited a house in a Washington suburb over a three-day period in mid-August after a person posing online as a child provided the address. There, they were confronted by “Dateline” reporter Chris Hansen.

Part of me has slightly mixed feelings about a story like this, to the degree that it amounts to “entrapment,” but I’m a parent and this story happened in my own back yard. Plus, these guys — according to the report — solicited sex online with someone they believed to be a minor, and then showed up with the intent of having sex with said minor. So, my heart doesn’t exactly bleed for them.

The whole thing only strengthens my conviction that there are going to be a few hard, fast rules in our house about computers and the kids being online. There will be no computers or internet access in the kids bedrooms. (Same goes for television and cable/satellite) Computers will be in the open areas of the house, and there will be parental controls on internet access.

Maybe that’s a little strict, but I’ve been on the web long enough to know what’s out there and, more importantly, who’s out there. Plus, given that we live in/near a city with great public transportation, it would only take a metro ride and maybe a bus ride to deliver a predator to our kids’ door or vice versa. I’ve heard too many stories of kids going missing only to be found in the company of adults they met online.

There are just too many things that can happen when kids have unsupervised time online. Of course, the internet/web is already ubiquitous and will probably be even more-so by when my kid gets older. So it will be impossible to protect him from online predators all the time. But there are certain things I can do at home, certain protections I can implement. And I will. For his own good as well as mine, because if anyone ever tried to harm my kid I’d probably have to set aside my non-violence and I’d end up in jail somewhere.

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About Terrance

Black. Gay. Father. Buddhist. Vegetarian. Liberal.
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