Sexual Predators are Experts in Using Social Media
My dad is fond of saying "we've come too far" when it comes to technology, but that is blissful ignorance today's parents can't afford.
USA Today reports that sexual predators are using social media like Facebook and mobile gadgets such as smart phones to victimize children. According to the report, predators are expert at using these technologies to manipulate and locate their victims. CyberTipline, a national hotline for reporting the sexual exploitation of children, reported twice as many calls in 2010 as in 2009, nearly a quarter million incidents.
No lesser source than mighty Microsoft advises parents to stay involved in their children's online life. "With the proliferation of social media, the issue of online safety is more important than ever before," said Jean-Phillipe Courtois, president of Microsoft International.
Predators lurk in chat rooms and other forums looking for the most vulnerable users, then pair their technological and manipulative skills to find and stalk potential victims. According to a Microsoft poll, 67 percent of teenagers have cleared their browser cache to prevent their parents from knowing where they were online; 17 percent say they always clear their history.
The latest technological threat against children includes apps like Foursquare and settings on Facebook that allow smart phones, laptops and tablets to identify a user's exact location. When children use these apps, built-in GPS locators literally hand tech-savvy predators a map to the current location of their targeted victims.
I have four teenagers and we talk regularly about online safety. Their world is growing and it's natural and appropriate for them to explore the boundaries, which include the latest, greatest technologies, but each day brings some new app that could put them in danger. Open communication is key, but it's the nature of teenagers to hide the things that scare them most, especially from their parents. Technological expertise and emotional immaturity often lead them deep into dangerous territory that feels safe because it is virtual. And no matter how hard I try, it seems like my kids are always at least two steps ahead of me technologically.
February 8 is celebrated as Safer Internet Day and this year Insafe created a safer internet toolkit that parents can download. It would be foolhardy to think I can protect my teens by taking technology away, as tempting as that may seem. I can't adopt a "we've come too far" attitude — it's my parental responsibility to remain technologically current.