The Internet Is Not Especially Dangerous For Kids -- Which, Tragically, Isn't Newsworthy To Some

from the should-be-common-sense dept

It's repeated so often that it has almost become a cliché: the Internet is a dangerous place for children. We're regularly treated to alarmist stories about the growing problem of child predators on the Internet. But David Pogue has a great post putting the danger in perspective -- fitting well with recent studies showing the danger is overstated. He says he was asked to write a story on the subject, and when he submitted a story arguing that the dangers were over-hyped, his editor pressured him to track down some examples of Internet-based violence. Pogue says that he "could not find a single example of a preteen getting abducted and murdered by an Internet predator."

The examples he was able to find were almost comically tame. One mother, for example, leapt to unplug the computer to prevent her child from seeing a pornographic image. While I'm not in favor of showing porn to children, it seems unlikely that seeing a naked women will cause a child permanent damage. Pogue points out a PBS documentary with some striking facts. For example, "the data shows that giving out personal information over the Internet makes absolutely no difference when it comes to a child’s vulnerability to predation." And "all the kids we met, without exception, told us the same thing: They would never dream of meeting someone in person they'd met online," -- again just as studies have shown. The real problem here isn't that the Internet is especially dangerous, but that some parents are absurdly over-protective. The Internet, like every other aspect of life, has some risks. But those risks are, if anything, less serious than the risks children encounter in the real world. If kids use their common sense, they'll be perfectly safe. Unfortunately, that's not the message we tend to get from the media.


Reader Comments (rss)

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    Thom, Mar 4th, 2008 @ 9:42am

    Ummm

    I agree that the Internet isn't particularly dangerous to teens (compared with everyday threats), but if you show me ANY study that says teens won't go meet people in person that they've met online I'll show you a completely worthless survey.

    I have four sisters and between us we have 21 children in their teens. Most are girls with myriad friends. Then there are all my friends with their teen children. I can tell you emphatically that every single one of them will say they'd never go to meet an online acquaintence in person but that every one of them most certainly would and that most have done so.

    It's not that they intend to lie or decieve us, because none of them would ever consider meeting someone they didn't know or trust. The problem is that they can easily be made to believe they know and can trust just about anyone with a very little bit of time and information. They don't grasp, or they dismiss, the potential for deception and danger.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Mar 4th, 2008 @ 10:02am

      Re: Ummm

      How many in this group of young people were abducted and/or killed?

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Mar 4th, 2008 @ 1:45pm

      Re: Ummm

      "I have four sisters and between us we have 21 children in their teens. Most are girls with myriad friends. Then there are all my friends with their teen children. I can tell you emphatically that every single one of them will say they'd never go to meet an online acquaintence in person but that every one of them most certainly would and that most have done so."

      So, you suspect and therefor assume you're right without any evidence to the contrary. Sounds about right!

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 4th, 2008 @ 9:44am

    Yeah, this was hard, had to use Google. maybe not preteens, but to say there isn't danger out there is just stupid.

    A man who admitted abducting and indecently assaulting a teenage girl he met through an internet chat room has been jailed for 18 months.

    Police say they believe an Albemarle County man kidnapped and raped a Connecticut girl he met on the Internet. James Gardner Dennis, 34, was arrested Feb. 20 and charged with rape, forcible sodomy, abduction and enticement of a minor through the use of communications systems. Court documents show that investigators believe Dennis met the victim on Facebook, a social networking Web site, and sent her a plane ticket to fly to Charlottesville for a supposed modeling job.

     

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      Tim Lee, Mar 4th, 2008 @ 9:55am

      Re:

      It seems like the lesson here is "don't let your teenager fly to another city to meet a stranger," not "the Internet is dangerous." 20 years ago, a rapist could have accomplished the same thing with a classified ad.

       

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        Not the same think, Mar 4th, 2008 @ 11:39am

        Not even close

        Could a rapist accomplish the same thing with a classified ad? I seriously doubt it and the comparison is really apples to oragnes. Twenty years ago would a typical teen have actually read a classified ad? Very unlikely unless they were specifically looking for something in the classifieds. I doubt very many teens then or now consider classified ads as an entertainment medium. Not so with the internet.

        A classified ad doesn't compare to internet based dialogs. In print media the sender doesn't really control of the distribution of the ad. A classified ad's reach is limited to the physical distribution of the media (Newspaper, magazine, fan publication). You can't target a demographic at level of granularity lower than the general demographic of the publication. A traditional classified ad can't specifically target an age group, gender, interest group, etc. With the internet you target people like a missile at a bunker and you can aim that shot anywhere in the world any time you want.


        Further, a classified ad is basically a one-way communication channel. The sender doesn't get instant feedback as to whether their message is reaching someone in which they have an interest. You can't initiate an instant dialog via a classified ad the way you can through internet chat, blogs, and email. It is this instant communication and feedback that creates the risk. Predators a very adept on playing on a child's fears, wants, wishes, etc. They can constantly adapt their dialog based on the feedback loop created by the internet.

        ANY communication media has that same potential risks but the internet allows these sickos to spread their infection anywhere, at anytime, and nearly anonymously that was never possible with tradition print media. The issue with the internet is it simply creates greater opportunity for predators to identify and exploit potential victims.

         

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          Twinrova, Mar 5th, 2008 @ 4:19am

          Re: Not even close

          Not the same think wrote: "Could a rapist accomplish the same thing with a classified ad?"

          I can answer this as a definite yes. The definition of "ad" is too narrow. Try ad on a broader scale, such as posters/messages on telephone poles or fliers handed out in malls.

          One needs to focus on the true issue here and the internet is not the issue. It's the one who wants to break the law.

          If a person wants to break the law, there's not much anyone can do about it. We get spam, phishing lure, and a host of other attempts at those trying to capture our personal info. Most criminals are out for the money. Some are out for the children.

          In terms of pedophilia, most are "closet" cases (many studies will confirm this) because the DON'T want to be caught. They're not going to lure children into their den, so to speak.

          Like most criminals, it's those 2% who feel they can get bolder with their attempts at bigger crimes. Heck, watching any of those cop shows will show this. These people feel the internet is anonymous and quickly realize their mistake when they're caught.

          I'm going to have to agree with Tim on this one. The internet has some risks, just like a teen driving to a party after receiving the invite via email.

           

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            Anonymous Coward, Mar 5th, 2008 @ 5:38am

            Re: Re: Not even close

            I agree the potential risks are the same regardless of the media and I agree the internet as a media shouldn't be blamed for its misuse. But it is wrong to characterize the probability of these risks manifesting is the same for traditional print media vs the internet.

             

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      Anonymous Coward, Mar 4th, 2008 @ 9:59am

      Re:

      so, you're saying if you have no common sense, the internet could potentially be dangerous? Better shut it all down so lazy parents don't have to do their jobs.

       

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      johnsonjb (profile), Mar 4th, 2008 @ 10:35am

      Re:

      If you read the article, he was saying there wasn't a case of someone being abducted and killed. Of course there are abductions. There are abductions at schools too. So let's use media hype and say that schoold are a dangerous location for teens and preteens from predators. Better yet, the mall. Oh noes, better lock them inside, oh wait, wasn't there a study that said most abuse comes from people related? Guess we better just put all kids in a stasis tube, freeze dry them, and use them for stem cell research as they aren't safe anywhere else either.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Mar 4th, 2008 @ 12:00pm

      Re:

      "A man who admitted abducting and indecently assaulting a teenage girl he met through an internet chat room has been jailed for 18 months."

      That's not really "murdered."

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Mar 4th, 2008 @ 12:22pm

        Re: Re:

        That's not really "murdered."

        Really? Oh, thank god. I feel okay now, I mean, if she was just abducted and assaulted, you're right, that's okay.

         

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    Rich Kulawiec, Mar 4th, 2008 @ 10:28am

    To date, the probability that that someone in (let's say) the 18-22 year-old range will be murdered/assaulted/raped by a fellow student at their university greatly exceeds the probability that they will be murdered/assaulted/raped by an otherwise-unknown person that they met online.

    As much it would no doubt please the anti-science, anti-intellectual bent of some, I do hope that nobody will seriously suggest shutting down our institutions of higher learning.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 4th, 2008 @ 10:30am

    Rotten Disclaimer

    I've always thought this summed it up nicely:

    http://www.rotten.com/about/obscene.html

    Especially the "not a babysitter" statement. Wow, just like that paragon of visual entertainment technology known as "tv."

     

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    steve, Mar 4th, 2008 @ 11:05am

    porn!!!

    this kind of reminds me of the mid 90's when our church started warning all of the kids about the dangers of porn in email. we heard story after story of people in the church that innocently went to check their email and naked pictures began popping up everywhere. naturally i couldn't wait to get an email address . . . to my surprise, however, the naked pictures never came. despite the massive mess of spam that i have gotten since then with penis pills, free prescription drugs, and lower mortgage rates, i rarely find naked women, or men for that matter, in my junk folder. there's plenty of porn out there, but you don't often just stumble across it for no reason.

     

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      tele, Mar 6th, 2008 @ 6:17am

      Re: porn!!!

      Turn off Google's safe filter and do an image search for any woman's name.

      When I was a kid, you were lucky if you found some porn some other kid had stashed outside.

      Things certainly have changed in that regard.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 4th, 2008 @ 11:08am

    Just get the kids off the internet and they'll be perfectly safe.

     

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    Thom, Mar 4th, 2008 @ 11:51am

    Re: Re:ummm (and more)

    >How many in this group of young people were abducted and/or killed?

    Please go back and read the first line of my post, then read the rest and recontemplate my point. It's obvious, yet it's also obvious that it escaped you.

    I will add that one of my nephews has met and got into altercations with several practically unknown (to him) teen boys who've made it onto his girlfriend's myspace friends list. His idiocy and jealocy are to blame of course and this just mirrors, though adds to, the confrontations he gets into otherwise.

    Also, I'll note that the PBS documentary quote is at best very misleading and at worst undeniably false. There are weekly reports of teens meeting and running off with strangers/pervs/predators in other states. Many, if not most, of these include histories of calls to the homes and monies being sent for gifts and to support travel. Tell me how much of that would be accomplished without personal details being revealed. Obviously, in those cases where a teen crosses paths with a predator, giving out personal details absolutely and undeniably makes the child more vulnerable.

    Still, I note that such threats are small and rare compared to those that teens face daily from friends, family, and community. That doesn't make them unimportant though because they're threats that come in addition to normal threats and not necessarily intead of them. Parents need to educate and supervise their children...

     

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    The infamous Joe, Mar 4th, 2008 @ 12:24pm

    ...or not.

    I think the overhype of the "internet dangers" can be partially understood by the same idea behind why so many more people are afraid of flying in a plane, even though their chance of getting hurt or killed in a car are so much greater... these parents (and lawmakers) who shout the evils of the internet from atop a mountain are unfamiliar (uncomfortable? afraid?) of the internet that their children/grandchildren/great grandchildren have taken to like a fish in water, and thus, the dangers that *are* potentially there are magnified. (to them)

    Also, little Susy can meet a bad guy on the internet even while in her home, a place where these parents once connected "safe" with "completely sheltered and isolated".

    I think if parents (of which I am not, luckily for everyone involved) did less isolating and more educating, the internet would easily be far safer than, say, a walk home from school. (do people still walk home from school?) Also, perhaps a lesson or two on computers and the internet could help everyone.

     

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    Thom, Mar 4th, 2008 @ 3:32pm

    Re: AC

    I suspect and assume for some of them, but I know for an absolute fact that at least a third of our kids have met net-pals in person. There were several more accusations made at the others at the time but most were met with denials. Anyway, we have had a few talks and several groundings as a result.

    Thankfully the oldest of said pals (that I'm aware of) has been only a few years older than any of the kids. The kids had no garantee of that though, they based their choices to meet on online chats and myspace profiles which, even when legitimate, are rarely accurate.

    I will go out on a limb though and state emphatically that, if you don't think most teenagers will meet up personally with net-pals, particularly those the believe to be in their age/interest group then you should start signing your comments as anonymous fool rather than anonymous coward.

     

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