This is probably my last blog, as school is almost over, and my teacher asked us to post the editorials we wrote in class. Mine is about cyber security and online sexual predators- not related to shows or Broadway, but interesting all the same.
Staying Safe on a Dangerous Web
As children get older, parents are more inclined to “snoop” or monitor their children’s activities. They want to feel that they still have control over increasingly independent lives, so they read through texts and look at browser history, which can get pretty annoying. Could this behavior actually be to protect us? Do our parents really have our best interests at heart?
According to Alicia Kozakiewicz, an internet safety advocate, parents should always stay on top of their children’s online choices. She says “Monitor their activity… Don’t feel that you’re ‘spying’. You’re the parent. This is your responsibility.” This may seem extreme to teens, but Alicia has had a devastating experience with unchecked internet activity. As a young teen, Alicia began using internet chatrooms and ended up a victim to a predator.
From behind the veil of a computer screen she came face to face with an online predator. Typically, they build up fake trust with their victims, chosen through a process called “grooming”. They take advantage of them, initiate sexual conversations, introduce sexually-oriented images, etc. Victims who try to break communications are threatened, and like in Alicia’s case, kidnapped. Thirteen year-old Alicia was kidnapped by a man posing to be a 14 year-old boy, taken into a different state, chained up, raped, and tortured. She now dedicates her life to getting parents involved with their children’s online activity.
Alicia’s work is unravelled when online predators make sure parents won’t get in the way of victimization. They make sure that their victims are more technically savvy than their guardians so that they won’t be able to figure out what goes on. Sometimes, to avoid parents getting in the way, predators will send their victims cell phones so messages they receive are on a phone bill that parents won’t see.
Danah Boyd, principal researcher at Microsoft Research, believes online sexual predators are not a serious concern. That was the thesis of her article titled “Online Sexual Predators are Not a Serious Problem,” yet in the same article she says that “One in seven children is sexually exploited online.” How is that not concerning?
The real problem, however, lies in the children who don’t have parents that lean over their shoulders and monitor their online activity. Data from a study conducted by David Finkelhor at the Crimes Against Children Research Center says that those who are “Victimized were significantly more likely to be from abusive homes, grappling with addiction or mental health issues, and/or struggling with sexual identity.” Children going through difficult emotional times without parents over their shoulders were victimized more often by a sexual predator than children of other backgrounds.
Finkelhor poses a solution to this relevant issue. He suggests instead of snooping, “Teaching children early on about healthy, age-appropriate relationships, helping them practice refusal skills, impulse management and emotion control, and bystander mobilization” are better ways to protect teens from victimization. He says that not only should parents and families enforce these ideas, but hearing it from another source, such as school, will help children from families without concerned parents learn the skills needed to battle victimization. To do this, in February, schools in England announced that they would offer cyber security lessons in school. This gives children the opportunity to learn about computer sciences as well as learn the basics of online security.
Keeping children safe should always be the priority of both schools and parents. While online predators are a constant threat in this increasingly connected world, teaching children the skills to protect themselves online should be a key focus of the American public.