Dangers Overblown for Teens Using Social Media 6.4.07 BY ANA STAS IA GOODS TEIN, 11:57AM I remember the first time I would focus on Internet risks Teens are also using technology EX PER T PAN EL watched Dateline NBC’s To and stress the importance of not to express themselves creatively, D ISCUSSES THE FACTS Catch a Predator, a TV series posting any personal or making their own MySpace Last month, the Advisory where they snared sexual revealing information. Parents layouts and videotaping skits to Committee to the Congressional predators using online venues. It would go home and talk to their post on YouTube. They use the Internet Congress invited a was a train wreck — the kind teens, especially girls, and scare web to connect with other teens group of experts to discuss The you can’t keep your eyes off of. them into taking down photos or who share their interests, Facts About Youth Online These predators were so creepy anything that might lead one of whether it’s in vegetarianism or Victimization. The panelists and so dumb. Some of them these creepos to hunt them down videogames. The Internet simply were: danah boyd, a researcher were lured into the trap more and show up after school one reflects and magnifies what at the University of California, than once by the “Dateline” day. teens have always done offline. Berkeley and fellow at the decoy. I also remember thinking, The problem with this message The biggest myth that has been University of Southern “If I was a parent, this would is that it’s both fear-based and perpetuated by well meaning law California Annenberg Center for scare the crap out of me.” divorced from reality. When I enforcement, Internet safety Communications; Dr. David Even before “To Catch a set out to write Totally Wired, I advocates, and the media is that Finkelhor, the director of the Predator,” I began seeing stories wanted to write a book for the Internet is teeming with Crimes Against Children about schools blocking blogging parents that would be a “voice of predators who are waiting for Research Center (CCRC) at the site Xanga. Yep, before reason” in the midst of negative your child to post just enough University of New Hampshire; MySpace became the media’s headlines and sensational stories information so they can find Amanda Lenhart, senior research target, teens were getting into about everything teens do that’s them and abduct them. In specialist at Pew Internet & trouble on Xanga and other sites. wrong or dangerous online. I “Totally Wired,” I relied on this American Life Project; and Dr. The stories were always the didn’t want to gloss over any of stat: “Out of the 800,000 kids Michele Ybarra, the president of same — the media would write a the negative — I talk about that are reported missing each Internet Solutions for Kids. As I story about how much cyber-bullying, hooking up, year by the Justice Department, listened to the panel, I couldn’t information teens put online and pornography, and blogrings that only 150 cases involve believe it hadn’t received more talk about cyber-bullying are pro-anorexia and bulimia. ‘stereotypical kidnappings,’ in media attention. causing parents to panic. The dark stuff is in there. But so which a child is taken by a Dr. Finkelhor went through is the reality: Most teens aren’t stranger, held for ransom, or The main source of this panic several revealing stats gleaned talking to strangers online. killed.” Now there is new data was fear of stranger-danger. Law from law enforcement over the They’re just socializing with the from some of the lead enforcement or some other well past couple of years about who same friends they see in person researchers in the field that is meaning Internet safety educator is being victimized — and it’s at school or met at summer putting online stranger-danger in would then be brought in to talk not who you would think. The camp. even more perspective and to parents. Most of these talks predominant victims of online clarifying who is really at risk. sex crimes are not young these adults. This is a very focus on what teens are really teens in the real world, we need children — they are teens. He different picture of who is at risk doing online. more mental health advocates in also debunked the myth that than a teen who simply posts these virtual public spaces who Even when we discuss cyber- these seductions involve online their photo and the name of their can spot red flags on MySpace bullying, we must put it in predators posing as other high school on a MySpace profiles or an alarming entry on perspective. It’s definitely children to stage an abduction or profile. LiveJournal and post a comment causing lots of drama at school assault. Most of these men asking if that teen is OK or stage That said, I understand that a and sometimes can be so severe (80%) were pretty open about some other kind of intervention. random abduction — even if the that it results in lawsuits or their sexual intentions talking to chances are slim it will happen expulsions. But most of the time, I also think any community site teens who were talking back. — is still every parent’s worst teens are pretty good at that has a large teen audience Who are the teens talking to nightmare. I’m not advocating blocking, ignoring or IMing (especially MySpace and these men? They’re teens who that it’s OK for kids or teens to back until the harassment stops Facebook) should build and most likely have been victimized put their first and last names, or goes away. This doesn’t mean promote an online resource area either physically or sexually addresses, cell phone numbers or we shouldn’t talk about bullying with hotline numbers and links and/or have a troubled home life. other information online. But I prevention or how to respond; it to agencies. There should also be Only 3% of these cases involved think it’s essential to evaluate just means we have to a way to flag other teens’ an abduction. In 73% of these the risk realistically and respond understand how teens view this profiles so a counselor can crimes, teens had met the proportionately. In order to do issue and are responding to it as review it and decide if some sort perpetrator on multiple this, we need to overhaul the well. of intervention is needed. Instead occasions and have had multiple tone and message of Internet of spending time and money danah boyd made a great point sexual encounters. In half the safety education being taught at stoking parental fears, we should on the panel, saying we should cases teens claimed they were parents’ nights in schools, PTA be engaging in a realistic invest in virtual outreach to at- “in love” with the adult. In a meetings and other types of dialogue about these issues and risk teens online. Just like youth quarter of the cases, “victims” community events. We must reaching out to teens who are workers reach out to homeless ran away from home to be with tone down the fear factor and most at-risk.
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