A new study released yesterday from the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center reveals that nearly a third of American teenage girls admit that at some point they’ve met in person someone with whom their only previous contact was online. The study shows that teenage girls who are neglected or abused are even more likely to meet up with someone they met online. This news is worrisome for parents and children alike, as these encounters can be risky and dangerous. Here are some tips for parents and youth to help avoid these encounters and to stay safe online.
First, if you are a youth, be careful who you talk to and what information you share with people online. Never share personal information, such as passwords, bank account number, or social security numbers or identifying information, such as where you live, your address, your phone number or even your age. As you talk to people online, keep in mind that things are not always as they seem. While the person you are talking to may claim they are the same age as you, they may be an online predator posing as a teenager to gain your confidence. Never present yourself online (either in images or verbally) in ways that can be construed as sexually explicit or provocative. These actions increase your risk online. Lastly, and most importantly, never meet with people you have only met online. While you may feel you trust them, they may be completely different, even dangerous, people in person. Be sure to talk to an adult if you ever run into a situation online that makes you feel uncomfortable.
If you are a parent, encourage your children to abide by the suggestions outlined in the previous paragraph. The most important thing you can do, however, is talk to your children. The Cincinnati study showed that parental involvement and communication was far more effective at protecting children than parental control and filtering software. Explain to your children the dangers of meeting online acquaintances in person. Encourage them to come to you if they are ever presented with the opportunity or encounter any other uncomfortable situation online. While it is important for you to follow and monitor what your children do online, make sure not to do so in a way that your children feel shut down and like they can’t or don’t want to talk to you. Create a balance between monitoring and open communication. Know your children’s warning signs and encourage them to be open and honest with you.
While the internet may be a great place to discuss our interests with others online, it is important that purely online interactions stay online, as meeting online contacts in person can be dangerous. By following these tips, youth can stay safer online and parents can help protect their children from online dangers. For more information on being safe online, parents can go to http://1.usa.gov/X7isBB while youth can check out http://1.usa.gov/V4SaC4.
The print copy of the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center’s study can be found in the February edition of the journal Pediatrics.