14% of children 9 – 14 years old, and 12% of high school students 15 – 18 years old purposefully chose to meet with a stranger (in real life) they had chatted with online according to research published in the July issue of the American Journal of Nursing. In addition, half of the children and teens were either sexually assaulted or threatened, touched inappropriately, or had “something sexual happen.”
Participants in the survey also included “Internet sexual offenders” (those convicted of either an Internet sexual offense or a hands-on sexual offense and/or a prior Internet offense). Their preferred method of communication is with girls versus boys, and about 2/3 bring up the topic of sex during the first chat session with children and young adults the study found.
The first thought that came to my mind was: How could a parent of a 9 year old let this happen? And then after pulling myself off the ceiling of our office, I realized how many parents have told us at Yoursphere that they have “felt like their child is safe because they’re on the computer in the other room.” While I certainly understand the feeling of safety a parent has knowing and seeing exactly where your child is, these concerning facts simply underscore the fact that:
- Each of us should, in plain English, tell our children: You may not go and meet a person in real life that you talk to online unless you, the parent, also know that person. Remind and keep reminding, even if you get the eye-rolling from your 17 year old daughter.
- Utilize monitoring software like GoGostat, SocialShield or BSecure. (Admittedly, introducing these types of products into the social networking equation of your teen will likely garner tremendous push back and might not be an option, but I still encourage you try. And this is a great reminder for those parents who have younger children to make these software solutions a part of the equation for any digital device they use. They’ll grow up not knowing otherwise.)