Friday, July 20, 2007

Avoiding Online Predators

Yesterday, I blogged about the show “To Catch A Predator.” I have one final complaint about the show: It seems to try to put fear into the hearts of parents everywhere. You know... Moms and Dads, lock up your daughters, cause these guys would love to get their hands on them! Parents are basically encouraged to go to their kids with the attitude of, "We need to keep very close tabs on you. You're young and impulsive, and you will probably make poor decisions. Left to your own, you might invite one of these predators into the house and have sex with him! So we need to be over your shoulder as you use the computer."
The children in my life are not quite at this stage yet… but I clearly remember being an adolescent myself. I was a “troubled” kid, and so the adults around me were pretty open about their idea that they needed to supervise me, even lock me up, for my own safety.
The thing is, adolescents are in a difficult stage of life. Although they still are young and in some ways impulsive, they feel themselves getting older and being able to have more complicated thoughts and opinions than they ever had before. They do not want to see themselves as vulnerable children in need of supervision. Telling a kid, "I need to supervise you so you don't get taken advantage of by an adult," isn't going to go over well with a kid who fully believes she is very mature and smart and able to handle herself. In fact, that attitude might make it easier for a perpetrator to lure a kid in. An adult will often try to convince a kid that if she meets him, it will be her choice, she'll be taking control of her own life, and proving that she's not just a little kid like her parents think she is. The kid in question will think, "This is my life! Age doesn't matter... I like this guy!" She may even be convinced that hiding things from her parents is just part of being an adolescent.
Instead of desperately trying to monitor a kid's every move, adults might do better to make sure they are keeping a running conversation with the children in their lives, about this sort of topic. As adolescents learn more about the world, they love to be asked their opinions. You could actually use a show like “To Catch a Predator,” or maybe a newspaper article, to ask the youngster in your life what they think about it. Go about it in a non-accusing way. You could say something like, “Wow, its so strange to me that those adult men want to meet these young girls. Do you think it is normal for adults to have that sort of relationship with someone your age?” If you pose the question as a right-or-wrong type of thing, the child will try to tell you what you want to hear. But if you show that you’re really listening, and interested in what they have to say, they may talk your ear off! You can ask them if they have ever been approached online for an adult. If they say, “Yes,” don’t get mad or defensive… ask them how they handled it! You might be surprised to find out that your thirteen-year-old leaves a chat room immediately if someone makes her uncomfortable, or that your twelve-year-old reported an adult to a chatroom moderator and got the person “TOS’d.”
On the other hand, your conversation might lead you to find out that the child in your life does feel comfortable talking to adults online, and that she sees nothing wrong about an adult man having a “relationship” with an adolescent. If this is the case, you now know that this child needs some extra guidance!
I also think that kids who become ensnared by adult perpetrators are not really looking for a romantic or sexual relationship with an adult… they simply want to be treated, and thought of, as an adult. Unfortunately, this makes it easy for a perpetrator to pursue a child and convince him that sex will make him more of an adult. Try to give the adolescents in your life healthier channels in which to feel more like adults, and ways to have safe friendships with upstanding, moral adults. You could find a mentoring program where the child can meet with an adult (who has gone through a background check, drug test, interview, training, etc) in order for that child to have a safe adult role model to spend time with and receive positive guidance from. Or encourage your child to spend time with a favorite aunt, uncle, grandparent or neighbor! Adolescents love to talk about their own thoughts and opinions, and just spending time with a safe adult who appreciates them and is willing to converse with them can make a world of difference. Participating in a volunteering group or similar project can make an adolescent feel grownup, appreciated, and worthwhile, also.
I think the trick is to help adolescents to feel as if they already have adults around them who appreciate them, need them, love them, and see them as unique individuals. That way, they won’t go looking for those feelings from more dangerous people, like strangers in chat rooms!
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Ginny said...

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pat said...

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