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Cyberspace, a double edged sword


Fri, May 1st, 2009
Posted in Commentary

An increasingly widespread form of child abuse and sexual exploitation is fostered by predators using the Internet. We should be aware of one of the dark sides of computer use especially the misuse by predators against unsuspecting, vulnerable children. One of the greatest dangers to children in this age of technology is the Internet.

We live in a small town rural area which lulls us into a relative sense of safety. However, the Internet is an "equalizer" which makes children as susceptible to sexual exploitation here as in any large city. The Internet is a marvelous convenience that allows us to gain a vast amount of information and connectivity to others, but it is also an avenue for the exploitation of children.

Children and youth can be victimized by expert manipulators, predators and criminals, who are sophisticated technologically that ultimately intend to sexually exploit an innocent child. Beware if your child spends much of their time on the Internet and in chat rooms. Parents need to educate themselves and their children about the potential dangers.

Predators online build and cultivate a relationship with a child. An article written by Sarah Arendt in the October 2008 issue of LaCrosse Magazine notes "the ultimate danger is when they seek to move the relationship from online to meeting in person." She warns that danger lies in chat rooms, social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace and with online games. The national Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) formed in 1999 notes that 75 percent of children are willing to share personal information online.

Criminals or predators can get themselves to be invited as a "friend" to one of the social networking sites. Many youth post pictures and schedules for their friends and classmates which can be used by predators to track unsuspecting youth. It is especially dangerous to agree to become a "friend" to anyone that is not known to them. Arendt stresses that Webcams are not suitable for unsupervised children.

What Can Parents Do?

Keep the computer your child uses in a common room, not in the privacy of a bedroom. Monitor your child's use of the Internet and be aware of the use of chat rooms and social networking sites. Discuss the dangers with your children and warn them never to meet face to face with someone they meet on line. Children need to be schooled on the potential dangers of giving out personal information or pictures to people they don't know.

Parents can use the computer to educate themselves. The following websites will be helpful: www.netlingo.com (testing acronyms or texting shorthand that parents should know), www.isafe.org (information about online dangers), www.fbi.gov/publications/pguide/pguidee.htm and www.netsmartz411.org (information about Internet safety).

A Warning to Children

and Youth

Children should be made conscious of the fact that posting improper photographs of themselves on the Internet is a crime and can be categorized as child pornography. Arendt says that "cyberbullying" or the posting of inappropriate information about another person is a form of harassment and can have legal consequences.

Youth need to be aware that so called "sexting" on their cell phones can result in a lifelong label as a sex offender for distributing child pornography. Young people may think it is cool to send a nude picture of themselves or a friend over their cell phone, but it can result in a criminal charge.

The Internet can be invaluable to your child as a learning tool, entertainment, and a way to keep in contact with friends and family. Unfortunately, the Internet can be turned against your child and do serious harm. Educate yourself and your children about the dangers of cyberspace and the dark side of the double edged sword and employ "common sense."

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