Dangers Overblown for Teens Using Social Media 6 by pqp10557


									Dangers Overblown for Teens Using Social Media 6.4.07
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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