The Latest Dangers in Cyberworld

When you’re a new mother or father, you learn quite quickly that your child has been born into a world filled with hidden dangers.  You have to make sure that the stuffed animal you place in your baby’s crib doesn’t represent a choking hazard…that your child doesn’t fall out of his high chair…that your two-year-old doesn’t stray into the street while chasing a bubble.

Once your child graduates from the toddler years, you have to be concerned about whether he’s wearing a helmet when cycling through your neighborhood…or whether she’s spending enough time doing her homework.  You have to be focused on what your child is eating…how your child is sleeping…and how your child is dealing with stress.

And, in this age of digital technology, you have to be absolutely obsessed with what your child is doing online.

Sure, you may know enough to keep your child from browsing through porn sites, but did you know that your teenager could easily become a victim of a sexual predator—just by occupying a place in cyberspace?

The problem is, a supposedly innocuous Internet website where people can post their pictures, chat, and post their musings about the universe.  The trouble is, mySpace attracts individuals who want to sexually exploit teenagers.  Newspapers are carrying headlines showing the troubles with mySpace:  a 15-year-old runs away from home to be with a man she met on the Internet…a 24-year-old man is arrested for having sex with a 14-year-old girl he knew from mySpace…a 32-year-old man is accused of soliciting sex from a 13-year-old through mySpace.  

In short, your Internet connection could easily become a pathway for a predator.

In such a situation, what can a parent do?  Some parent activists have decided to arm themselves with information.  They’re educating themselves about the dangers of mySpace.  They’re learning about what their teenage sons and daughters are doing online.  And they’re taking action to reduce the risks to their children.

At one point, these parents might have never thought that anything bad could happen to their child from his or her exposure to the World Wide Web.  In fact, they might have encouraged their teens to spend time on the Internet in order to polish their computer skills and broaden their horizons.  But now they’ve come to realize that no teen is immune to the lure of a clever predator in cyberspace.

Apparently, teens can become easy targets because they have a tendency to reveal too much information on the ‘Net.  They’re naïve enough to believe that the people they meet through mySpace share their values as well as their interests.  The teens may be looking for affirmation from their cyber-friends…especially if they have difficulty making friends at school.  Because they’re often entering cyberworld through the safety of their parents’ homes, they may not realize that danger could be just a click away.

Fortunately, though, caring adults, including school officials, are awakening to the threat posed by mySpace.  The rapid growth of the site has some school leaders taking concrete steps to protect children, which is considered to be the site’s main audience.   In addition to the threat of sexual predators, the site may also attract drug dealers, child porn dealers, and a host of other troubled souls.  If you wouldn’t want your child to interact with such people in your neighborhood, why would you let him or her communicate with such people on the Internet?

As a parent, you need to ask yourself some tough questions, such as how much time your children spend on line and whom they’re talking to.  You also have to determine if they appear to be heading down a path that could lead to danger.  

When our children are little, it’s so much easier.  We simply have to hold their hands while crossing the street to make sure that they get safely to the other side.  When they’re teens, we need to guide them safely to adulthood.  And that might involve unplugging the computer once in a while.