A Scary Reality

3/1/2011 1:00:00 AM

By Ben Grey


Ask a parent, “What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the term Internet safety?” The most common answer is something about predators. And that’s what we have to address.

Yes, bad things happen on the Internet. And there is no minimizing how serious and how bad some of those things can be. But we can address them in a way that doesn’t keep students from using one of the most powerful tools in the history of humanity.

My message to parents regarding online safety is essentially this: While we shouldn’t pretend there aren’t any dangers online, we must understand the true nature of the dangers in order to help our kids responsibly navigate the Web. The reality is, the instances of abduction are unbelievably rare. An online sexual crime is much more akin to a statutory-rape scenario than to abduction. And that scenario requires ongoing interaction between a predator and a child. Which means we can teach our kids to end the interaction before it develops into the crime.

Of the students in the study discussed in a recent journal article above, only 13 percent said they received any sort of solicitation online. And only 4 percent said they received an aggressive solicitation. That means that 96 percent of kids didn’t experience even the first phase of an ongoing process that the majority of adults seem to fixate upon when talking about students using the Internet. Again, that doesn’t minimize what the 4 percent are experiencing, but it does put it into perspective. And understanding the true nature of what the 4 percent are encountering helps us work with our kids to develop the capacity to address these situations when they occur.

The more alarming statistic, to me, was that 33 percent of students said their parents know “little” or “very little” about what they do online. And only 5 percent of students said they told their parents when they received a solicitation online. That’s something adults can address.

We need to be communicating with our kids about this. A lot. Keep talking to them about what they are doing online. What they are doing at school. What they are doing with their friends. It’s a concept that’s been around as long as we have, and that doesn’t change because the Internet came along. In fact, the Internet simply amplifies it. It scales a means of communicating in a way we’ve never experienced before.

Perhaps we can soon move beyond talking about Internet safety to talking about how we can help students understand life online. How adults can understand life online. And how we can all live it.

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