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Monday, March 24, 2008

On monitoring online kids

Some parents continue to wonder how privacy they should allow their children, where online activity is concerned. Of course, there is no simple answer even in a single household. Even in a family we may have rules and values that apply to all, but in so many cases different ages require different rules, and each child is individual where rule compliance, maturity, and trust levels are concerned. Having said all that, though, I will add that no parent should hesitate to use monitoring software if s/he's concerned about a child's safety. If you feel your child's communicating a little obsessively online with someone you don't know and the child's otherwise acting a little strange (for example, spending too much time online or being secretive about his or her online "friends"), her privacy is simply not an issue; you're keeping her safe. But a commentator in the New York Times suggests there are other reasons to use monitoring software that make it perfectly justifiable, and he makes a compelling argument, but - again - I think it depends on the child. "Will your teenagers find other ways of communicating to their friends when they realize you may be watching? Yes. But text messages and cellphones don’t offer the anonymity and danger of the Internet. They are usually one-on-one with someone you know. It is far easier for a predator to troll chat rooms and MySpace and Facebook." I agree about the trolling that happens on the Web, but he's missing the fact that 1) young people can share phone numbers via chat, IM, and social-networking sites which can be used later to call them on their cellphones (see "Grooming by phone too"), and 2) 90% of child sexual-exploitation victims know the offender (see "Sex offenders on MySpace: Some context"). But, speaking of MySpace and Facebook, this other perspective on teen social networking might be helpful too: "Dispelling 2 social Web myths."

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Anonymous KenS said...

Hey there… I am a big fan of that NYT op-ed… I mentioned it on a radio show I did. I agree with you here up the two points at the end… It’s not that I disagree with you; I just like to question the questions. You do say that “90% of child sexual-exploitation victims know the offender” and I have heard those stats before and do not deny them. BUT, what I have never heard explained is does that include kids who FEEL they know their attacker because they had a relationship with them online… see what I am saying. That repeated stat just says, “Yeah, the majority of kids know their attacker.” Well, to what extent? Is it really a family member? Or a close friend? Or an Internet friend…?

It’s true that the chances of “it happening to you” are slim… but is that a chance you want to take? These aren’t the creepy guys in the suspiciously obvious blue vans anymore; these are groomers that can take their time to seduce a child. For every perv arrested in a sting operation, there is one who gets away with it. Rarely to teens come forward… it’s always a parent that goes to the cops and says “my teen is having sex with someone they met online”… All that shows is that teens are consenting.

And THAT is what parents have to remember. Tens are teens and they are going to take risks and do dumb things online… but again, these aren’t the creepy guys around town… this is a world fishbowl full o sickos. Taking the chance and NOT monitoring your young child’s interaction on the world wide web is just ignorant and borderline abusive.

You want to ignore the “scary myths” and “overblown fears” of predators…? Fine. But don’t ignore the chemistry of the teenage mind, especially when given such a powerful tool like the Internet.

Oh… and this doesn’t even mention cyberbullying, addiction to the net and the fact that social networking has yet to provide one GOOD quality – it’s only diminishing further and already poorly-developed basic human skill set in today’s kids.

Parents, know what your kids are doing online. Knowledge is power… use monitoring software to be a powerful 21st century parent.

6:39 AM  

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