Dangers for Teens on the Internet

With the release of David Schwimmer’s new movie, Trust, parents are once more put on notice about the importance of educating their kids about the dangers of Internet sex predators. Schwimmer directed and produced the movie about what happens when a 14 year-old girl begins communicating with a stranger in an online chat room. The entire family feels the damaging effects of the girl’s victimization by an adult male posing as a teenage boy.

Photo by Keerati

Facebook and other social media, chat rooms and smart phones are a big part of young people’s lives today. These interactive technologies give them a chance to stay connected with friends but also open them up to risks from the adult world. According to a survey conducted by the University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Research Center, three-quarters of Net-initiated sexual exploitation victims were girls, aged 13 to 15. And three-quarters of the offenders were age 26 or older. Chat rooms were the most likely places for the relationships to start, with three-quarters of them beginning there. Most of the couples progressed to face-to-face sexual encounters with 93%of these involving illegal sex.

Many parents have also been concerned by the sexting that goes on among many high school students. Several states have proposed laws that are aimed at limiting this behavior by treating it as child pornography.

About the reaction to his film, Schwimmer has said he hopes “that viewers leave wanting to engage in more dialogue about Parenting in the Age of Technology.” Have you begun a dialogue in your family about the net with your children or grandchildren? Here are some areas you may want to discuss:

Address the consequences of behavior early on so it’s a topic they’ve heard before. Teens are often na├»ve about the long-term results of their actions. The sections of their brains responsible for good judgment have not matured enough for them to avoid dangerous situations. You’ll need to spell out the possible outcomes to activities that seem innocuous but may be risky.

Talk specifically about the potentially serious end result of sexting. Teens are often impulsive and caught up in the excitement of acting on a dare without considering the consequences. While they are not able to process the potentially negative end point, it’s up to you to remind them that once they’ve put something out on the Internet, they can’t erase it, no matter how many times they hit the ‘delete’ button. The American Academy of Pediatrics offers some suggestions for helping you speak about the problem of sexting with your kids.

Discuss the importance of privacy and self-respect. Peer pressure is an especially strong force at this developmental stage but give your teens the tools to avoid going along with the gang when they feel uncomfortable. Reinforce the value of their opinions as they make decisions that are appropriate for their safety.

Have regular family meetings to keep your communication open and honest. As a parent, be present in your children’s lives without overwhelming them with your input. Encourage them to share their concerns with you and listen without being judgmental. You’ll all need to practice cooperation and compromise as you come up with solutions that take everyone’s needs into account.

Walk the fine line between knowing when to let go and when to keep an eye on your teen. Give your teens the freedom they crave within the confines of your supervision. If you believe their health and safety is being threatened, you may need to draw on ‘tough love’ and shut down your kid’s Internet access.

As a parent, when you monitor your teenager’s online usage, you’ll be aware of potential threats before they get out of control. Even if your teen is in a chat room with someone she knows, it may lead to sexual exploitation since Net-initiated sex crimes are actually more common among acquaintances than strangers. The American Academy of Pediatrics has just released a new report about the impact of social media on kids. You’ll find more useful information and parenting tips on their website to help with your important role of raising children in the digital age.

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