The Times-Standard had a news story (I refuse to link to them anymore because they move their links behind a fee based archive after 14 days) today about a Eureka High Homecoming Queen who disappeared. Her parents “…have reason to believe that their daughter may have run away with a man from Fremont who she met online at Myspace.com.”
The article continues later: “Two other cases of missing teenage girls in December have been linked to possible predators on Myspace.com. Cox Internet sent out warnings recently to alert North Coast parents of the dangers that may be associated with the website. Neither of those missing 15-year-old girls have been found or have contacted family or friends.”
I am a Cox subscriber and don’t remember getting such a warning. However, these kinds of things have been cropping up since the Internet began. Today the evil site is MySpace.com, in the past it was AOL Chat rooms. It seems like every month we used to read another report of a teenager being lured into some bizarre, even deadly situation through some online vehicle.
Like all of these stories, they raise an alarm, usually directed at the vehicle of the outrage. In this case myspace.com. But is it really the fault of myspace.com? Or AOL? Is your child in more danger hanging out online or hanging out at the local park? I’ve looked around and haven’t found any studies that indicate what percentage of missing children is the result of online encounters. By far, the greatest source of abuse and kidnapping comes from friends and family members.
Still, the one study I have seen referred to claims that 1 in 5 children are approached sexually online. That’s pretty alarming. And this set of statistics really sounds scary.
So, what’s a parent to do? Here are a few simple suggestions:
1- Talk to your children early and often.
2 – Set rules about what they can and cannot do online.
3 – Monitor what they do online. Learn the lingo so you can tell what they are talking about.
4 – Don’t put a computer with online acces in their room. Keep it in a common area.
Myspace.com isn’t going away. AOL chat rooms are still around. Instant Messaging is all the rage. Technologies and online spaces will continue to evolve. Don’t be a victim by pretending they don’t exist or you’re too befuddled by technology to know what’s going on.