stories filed under: "strangers"
Tue, Apr 7th 2009 6:36pm
It's become quite clear that the threat to children from sexual predators on the internet has been massively overhyped by the media looking for a juicy story and for politicians looking to take advantage of it. Studies have shown that the number of sexual offenses against kids has dropped while internet use has grown, and fewer kids are actually being targeted by predators. What's always been interesting throughout this long-running moral panic is that kids have been shown to actually be pretty savvy in dealing with strangers online, and that perhaps politicians give them far less credit than they deserve in these areas. As we've noted, teaching kids how to deal with dangers they might face online -- just as with dangers they might face in real life -- is a much better way to keep them safe than by searching for some legal or technological magic bullet to eradicate sex offenders and protect the children. Now, another study has emerged saying that kids talk to their friends, and not strangers, online. Kids' primary use of social networking sites isn't to try and meet new people, let alone strangers, but rather to keep up with their real-life friends. The stories of kids being lured in by online predators grab lots of attention, and such incidents are undoubtedly despicable, but it's important to also remember that they are relatively rare.
from the stranger!!-stranger!!-stranger!! dept
When I was growing up, it was drilled into my elementary school brain to "don't talk to strangers" -- it instilled so much fear in me that whenever I did see a stranger, I would burst into a cold sweat and my pulse would quicken a bit, in anticipation of being kidnapped or offered candy. Luckily, my fears were unfounded, but the "don't talk to strangers" lessons are still vivid memories from my childhood. Apparently, kids these days don't share my childhood fears. In a recent study conducted by the Pew Internet and the American Life Project, only about 5 to 10 percent teenagers contacted online by strangers felt scared or uncomfortable by the experience. The study also found that 44 percent of teenagers with online profiles on sites like Facebook and MySpace were contacted by strangers, as compared to only 16 percent of those without profiles. Obviously, as more and more teens increase their digital footprint, the possibility that they may come in contact with a stranger increases in likelihood. And, since safe, positive interactions with strangers take place every day online, it makes sense that these teenagers don't really see it as creepy or scary. That said, hopefully they do understand how to deal with people they don't know online -- not that they should shut off all contact with people, but rather approach them with caution and only reveal personal information when they are sure that the new acquaintance is trusted. In any case, it's only a matter of time before some legislator gets their hands on this study and uses it as "proof" that teenagers are lax in their fear of strangers online.