Internet predators are today’s version of the monster under the bed, the wolf in the forest and the perv in the park, frightening tales that run through our culture and that reinforce the basic common sense rules you give your kids: don’t talk to strangers, don’t wander into dark places, and realize that even the kindliest person may be a wolf in disguise. So today’s news that more than 29,000 registered sex offenders have profiles on MySpace.com — four times the number the social networking site quoted two months ago — should serve not so much as cause for gibbering, shrieking alarm, but a potent reminder to parents that kids need to use those same common sense rules when they wander online.
That 29,000 figure certainly sounds alarming, but it’s slightly less so when you realize it represents a fraction of MySpace’s 100 million-plus users. To compare, as of April 2007, California had 110,305 registered sex offenders in a population of more than 26 million adults (The most recent census estimate in 2004 put the state’s adult population at 26.3 million.)
That’s not to say that parents should totally relax about their children’s forays into MySpace and other social network sites — in fact, media and youth culture expert Anastasia Goodstein, author of “Totally Wired: What Teens and Tweens are Really Doing Online,” says tweens shouldn’t be on MySpace at all. And the National Institute on Media and the Family strongly urges parents to “watch what your kids watch” on TV and at the cineplex, to “play what your kids play” in video games, and “surf what your kids surf” online. Be aware. Be proactive.
Most teens are savvy about online dangers. The same cannot be said for their younger sibs. It’s up to parents to rectify that, and you can find some helpful tips here. After all, you wouldn’t send your treat-toting kid to grandma’s without warning him or her about the wolves in the forest.
– Jackie Burrell