Meeting people on the Internet is not a very good plan. You can never know for sure who you’re talking to, and there has been plenty of research to show the dangers of developing a relationship with someone online.
However, reality and facts don’t seem to matter when emotions are involved. According to the journal Pediatrics, a third of teenagers reported having offline meetings with people they have met on the Internet. Now, their parents probably didn’t neglect to tell them, “Don’t do that!” A lot of kids are thrill-seekers, or they desperately want to connect with someone, oftentimes someone older. Not too many predators are even pretending to be kids anymore. Many flat-out admit that they’re adults.
Young girls who are abused (sexually or physically) or neglected (because their parents are either divorced or too busy with full-time careers) are the most likely to present themselves online in a sexual or provocative way. They do it to fill the space that their parents aren’t filling and to get attention. That’s the most vulnerable kind of kid. If someone is looking for a vulnerable teen with whom to start an online sexual discourse, they will most likely target someone who presents themselves provocatively. This also occurs with minor gay males, who are confused, scared, hiding, or being rejected by their parents.
So, how can you protect your kids from online predators? You have to be there to parent. It’s as simple as that. As research shows, installing Internet filtering software doesn’t really make that much of a difference – maltreated kids still find a way to intentionally seek the adult content and provocatively present themselves on social networking sites.
Like any other job, being a parent requires you to show up and put in effort. For example, in order to be a surgeon, you have to be in the operating room. As a parent, you need to be there when your child gets out of school to reduce the association between your adolescent’s risk factors and online behavior. Paying attention to your kids is the best medicine and best method of control. Kids who are loved and well taken care of, by and large, have more self-control and get into less trouble – online and elsewhere.