If you are reading this blog, you’ve probably heard the news of the new study released by the Internet Safety Technical Task Force – a task force charged with assessing technologies for protecting children from unwanted contact online.
The Harvard-led panel was born out of the MySpace/Internet predator battle fought last year by 49 State Attorneys General. What irks me here is not the findings (which were painfully obvious if you are remotely attuned to the overall topic), but the way in which everyone is slinging their headlines around.
The biggest news (drumroll) is that the fears of internet predators on social networking sites are largely overblown. The overblown fears are attributed to shows like “To Catch a Predator”… and the list stops there. Not one article mentions a second show… they all generalize “the media.” Well guess what, it’s the same media that is now trumpeting headlines about these fears being overblown. It’s the headline of the day – so everyone is going to use it.
What is true is that every week, somewhere in the country, numerous slimeballs are in fact arrested for trying to lure kids online. It’s not just on MySpace and Facebook – in fact, very often it’s not those sites because of the recent crackdown and the general public nature of them. Lots of predation is done on gaming sites and in chat rooms. But predation is not the focus of the study – it’s social networks and the dangers on them. Still, bottom line: don’t dismiss the threat of predators all together just because the stats are low.
The second big item in the survey was that cyberbullying is in fact a larger problem. Well, I think everyone knows that by now. I’ll continue this argument further below.
The third revelation is that age verification tools (which was the real center of the debate) are unnecessary and won’t do that good since the site is comprised of so many young people and the most prevalent attacks are from peers, not solicitations from predators. I have to agree with this.
Depending on what article you read, you will see that the researchers are really trying to put the weight of internet safety into the laps of the parents. THIS IS DEAD ON!! There is no reason for laws to be made, freedoms to be restricted and every other little stipulation and provision made when it is the parents simple and basic duty to teach their children how to live in this world and in this society. This includes not talking to strangers, not giving out personal info and PLAYING NICE.
It is 100% the parents’ duty… not the websites’ to impose age restrictions. It’s called “saying to your child – you are not old enough to be on this site, don’t go there, please.” My parents literally didn’t let me watch PG-13 movies until I was 11 or 12 (unless they were on TV which was always edited). Parents need to start doing this at home with the internet. If you know a site is supposed to be reserved for teenagers, don’t let your 11 year old on it.
But if you decide your child is mentally old enough, fine. Just don’t let them venture blindly. Make sure they know how to stay safe online. Know what sites the go to, who they talk to, how they represent themselves and how they act towards others. It all starts at home.
I really hope this study doesn’t instill a false sense of security in parents. I hope the headlines don’t cause a bunch of parents (who already seem to care too little) heave a sigh of relief and say “oh, well good. Glad I don’t have to worry about that,” because you still do. You need to know and realize that the threats do exist – just Google for internet predators arrested and you will see for yourself – but we can all be smart enough to realize that the stats of victims are low and that kids seem to know not to talk to strangers. But there are adventure seekers that will deviate.
But that is the minority – the bigger problem is bullies.
So let’s take a step back and realize this: the same media that hyped Internet predators on social networks is now glorifying obvious results (to those of us embedded in the issue) that show the fears are overblown and that cyberbullying is a bigger issue. The predators do exist, but the threat of cyberbullying is far greater. Predators we have to hunt down and lock up. Cyberbullies live in your home. The real message here is parental involvement and awareness. Know how your child acts online towards others and how they participate in the digital world. Know where they go and who they talk to and how. You don’t have to spy and analyze, but you should simply know. Obviously, this is where our PC Pandora monitoring software comes in handy…
I firmly believe that we could take a huge step towards a ‘nicer’ internet and less bullying if every parent today just said “no more” and went back to basics with their parenting messages.
Play nice with others.