Facebook frenemies bigger problem than predators
New study finds that cyber-bullying may be a bigger problem than sexual predators online.
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It is a modern parent's fear -- their child would be surfing the internet and suddenly becomes the target of an adult sexual predator. There are a number of ways: chat rooms, MySpace, or Facebook. Social networking has skyrocketed, and with it, many concerns.
However, a new report out of Harvard University finds that the biggest threat to your child is not the adult sexual predator, but far more likely one of his or her peers -- the high school bully who is taking to the web.
Larry Magid is a CNET blogger, CBS News Technology Analyst, and co-director of the non-profit foundation Connect Safely. He was one of the people on the Harvard panel.
"We look at all of the research that has been done of the last seven or eight years, and there have been a number of studies, all of which reach this same conclusion: yes, kids to receive sexual solicitations. In 2000 it was one out of five, in 2006 it was one out of seven.
"But if you drill down and look at where those solicitations come from, in most cases they are coming from other teenagers, other minors, or if it is an adult, it is a very young adult, maybe somebody in their early 20s.
"So, this image of the 40-year-old predator who is lurking the web searching for innocent children, I wouldn't say it is a complete myth, but statistically it is extremely unlikely.
"What is more likely, if there is going to be an adult predator and teenage relationship, it will be groomed over a long period of time. And, this is most important, the child will be taking some exceptional risks; they may be sexually aggresive themselves, they will be responsive, and most of the time, the young person is aware of the aproximate age. So, it is not as if this adult shows up and they are surprised -- they pretty much know if they are going to be relating to an adult."
Magid says that it is far more likely to be a case of cyber-bullying, than anyone getting involved in a sexual relationship. The Harvard study showed that sexual solicitations had fallen, but they still remain at about 13%. Magid points out that most of them are still minor-to-minor incidences. The others are largely minor-to-young adult, most of which are non-aggressive.
"The numbers can be scary, but when you break them down they are far less scary. At least if you are worried about the adult-child relationships."
Some of the guidelines for dealing with cyber-bullying provided by the Connect Safely Foundation include the obvious seeking of a parent or school counselor, but also the tapping into peers as a resource to cope.
Placing software on your computer to monitor children's internet usage is not something Magid recommends, unless there are specific concerns. "Its kind of like searching your kids' room; I don't think that parents should never do it, but I don't think it should be a routine part of parenting."
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