Parents must be aware that
although the internet is valuable in helping research, it does have some risks
There often are highly publicized examples of teen exploitation secondary to
Internet use, but these are usually extreme cases and not the norm. The
negative experiences associated with Internet use should not deter teens from
using this resource; however, negative experiences should serve as warnings of
situations to avoid while on-line, says Katie Plax, M.D., assistant professor
of pediatrics at Washington University School of Medicine and director of the Adolescent
Center at St. Louis Children's
Plax offers a few Internet safety concerns:
—Teens may inadvertently reveal personal identifying information
while in chat rooms or when attempting to gain access to certain Web sites that
require registration prior to use. They may also give out credit card
information on unsecured sites when making purchases.
—Teens may be harassed, threatened, embarrassed or have
rumors spread about them via email, chat rooms or Internet Web pages.
—Teens spending excessive amounts of time on the
Internet may have limited interaction with family and friends. This may lead to
underdeveloped face-to-face communication skills.
Solicitation/exposure to inappropriate material
—Teens may be exposed to
sexually explicit, violent and antisocial information on the Internet. For
example, some Web sites promote eating disorders; the use of alcohol, tobacco
and drugs; teach hate; or provide instruction on how to build bombs. Seventy
percent of adolescents age 15 - 17 said they unintentionally encountered
pornography while surfing the Web. Teens also may receive sexual solicitation
while in chat rooms; 20 percent of adolescents receive at least one sexual
solicitation per year while online.
—Teens, especially females, are the most targeted
by child predators. Teens sharing personal information or agreeing to meet
someone in person they encounter on-line may result in abduction, physical
and/or sexual abuse.
Keeping teens safe online
"Keeping teens safe on-line
takes a collective effort by parents, educational providers and health care
providers," Plax says. "Parents who are not familiar with computers and using
the Internet should be encouraged to become more familiar with them."
Some tactics parents may use to help keep their teens safe online include:
- establish clear rules for
Internet use and develop an Internet safety contract with their teen
- keep the computer in a public
place in the house
- use an Internet filtering
device to limit access to inappropriate sites
- remind teens that the
Internet is a public place and to keep their identity private and not
share personal information
- instruct teens to never use
their or their parents' credit card on-line without permission
- instruct teens to never
arrange face-to-face meetings with a person they have met on-line
- discourage teens from
speaking rudely or spreading rumors about others on-line
- encourage teens to speak with
an adult if they encounter a Web site or have an experience on-line that
makes them feel uncomfortable
- establish an open line of
communication with teens to discuss the activities they enjoy on-line and
about the people they talk to or meet while on-line
"Overall, the Internet is a beneficial resource for
adolescents," Plax says. "However, it is important to remember there are no
censors on the Internet. Any person, organization or company can create a Web
site and distribute information, whether positive or negative."
In 1998, the Child On-line Protection Act (COPA) was passed in an effort to
reduce children and adolescents' exposure to harmful material on the Internet.
Although COPA and Internet filters are effective ways of decreasing teens'
exposure to inappropriate material on the Web, they have their limitations.
With teens now accessing the Internet in so many different ways (e.g., cell
phones, video consoles, PDAs) it is important to make them aware of the
potential dangers and provide them with general guidelines for staying safe