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Teenangels / Scrapbook / Articles / Priming Parents for Online Perils by Teenangel Lisa

Priming Parents for Online Perils by Teenangel Lisa

Picture a sixteen year old girl in a bikini on a city street late at night. Imagine a small child playing in the traffic of an interstate highway. Or consider a birthday party sent on a scavenger hunt through Harlem. Sounds absurd, right? Every parent calculates the risk of various activities and tries to protect their children from those where real danger is perceived.

The problem is that doing accurate risk assessment requires perfect and complete information, which no parent has. Instead, their calculations are based on the perception of risk, which is anything but accurate. Take terrorism for example. After September 11 th , the airlines suffered terribly because people greatly curtailed traveling, especially to certain destinations. The truth, however, was that the chance of being the target of a terrorist attack was still practically zero and the chance of accurately predicting where an attack would hit was even lower. People grossly miscalculated the risk of a terrorist attack because of the impact of the horror they viewed, and because this destruction occurred close to home.

Similarly, most parents would never allow any of the aforementioned activities because they have all been witness to violence, either first person or through televised broadcasts. The news reports enough rapes, car accidents, and muggings to make any parent realize the magnitude of these dangers, and to never allow their children to participate in an activity that would make them more susceptible to them.

And since most parents would choose to err on the side of caution, it is probably commonplace that risks are overestimated. Better safe than sorry. But what about newer risks? What happens when parents do not have and are not given adequate information to make a judgment? What about the Internet?

Cyber crime is a serious problem that has been given limited attention by the media and government. Few people realize the magnitude of the issue. Cyberstalkers use the Internet to stalk, shadow, belittle, embarrass, or assume the identity of people online. The harassment that begins online often moves offline, and information posted on the Internet is used to help stalk victims in person. Females and teenagers are major targets.

The problem is serious. Lives have been ruined and people have died. So why aren't parents leaping to action to protect their children from cyber predators? It's a risk miscalculation.

Parents do not think that the Internet represents a real risk because they are lacking in information. Most children know more about computers and the Internet than do their parents, and have no incentive to inform them what, exactly, they are doing online. The majority of parents have no idea if their children have posted profiles on searchable online databases, if they regularly converse with total strangers, if they search the Internet for pornography, or if they are the ones threatening or harassing others. Parents do not ask and do not worry because they perceive the computer as a virtual world, a play thing. They do not realize the real-life, serous risks that can begin on the Internet.

But parents alone are not to blame for this information gap. Rather, on must ask, if people are dying and lives are being ruined, why doesn't anyone hear about it? Why isn't it in the nightly news or on the cover of Newsweek? Why don't people know it happens? There are two major reasons why "horror stories" have been kept largely from the public eye. The original reason for the censoring of the horror was a fear of scaring people from using the Internet. But when the Internet grew popular and this was no longer an issue, nothing really changed. Why?

The fact is that the only major agencies that are concerned with, and devote funds to Internet safety are the Internet service providers. Obviously, the major ISPs like AOL-Time Warner have no stake in telling such horror stories and striking fear in their customers, as it would be detrimental to their business. And without government funding or private grants, if the ISPs don't tell the stories, they don't get out at all.

A dangerous situation is occurring because parents are miscalculating the risk the Internet entails. Because they are not knowledgeable about the web and because they have not heard any horror stories that hit "close to home," they have no real idea of the kind of danger that they are allowing their children to be exposed to completely unprotected. But just as no sane parents would allow their kid to play in traffic until one of the neighborhood children got killed, no sane parent should be waiting to see local evidence of this danger to take action. Instead, parents need to start acknowledging that the degree of publicity a situation receives is not at all indicative of how much danger it represents and that the Internet really is dangerous. Parents need to be involved with what their children do on the Internet and to accurately assess how much danger those activities entail to begin to assess if they risks they are taking are worth it.

Teenangel Lisa

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