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Other Voices: Protect children from online risks

The Nevada County Superintendent of Schools office, in conjunction with the 10 school districts in Nevada County, has declared this week Cyber-Safety Week. As an educator for more than 30 years, I am deeply concerned about the risks our youths are subject to online. Children of all ages are flocking to the Internet. More than 45 percent of children in the United States – more than 30 million of those younger than 18 – use the Internet.

It is important to note the types of dangers children may be susceptible to on the Internet. In addition to the useful and educational information available on the Web, a great deal of content exists that is not appropriate for children. This content can include nudity or other sexually explicit material; hate group or racist Web sites; promotional material about tobacco, alcohol or drugs; graphic violence; information on satanic or cult groups; or recipes for making bombs or other explosives.

Unfortunately, child pornography can be seen on the Internet, and sexual predators can try to reach out to children for sexual purposes. Children can be targets of cyberstalking or harassment that includes repeated and unwanted contact that is rude or threatening. Also, people can send viruses to other computers that could damage or destroy hard drives.



Other dangers to children online include sexual exploitation or enticement. Sexual predators may target children while maintaining relative anonymity. The nature of online interaction facilitates deception about the predator’s identity, age and intentions. Millions of children online form a large pool from which predators can select victims. Thus, parents and educators need to carefully supervise children’s activities on the Internet. Sexual predators frequent chatrooms, looking for children. These predators target likely victims, make contact and work to develop friendships, emotional reliance and interest in sexual topics. He or she may initiate offline sexual relations quickly or spend months “grooming” the child for a sexual relationship. Sexual predators may use material goods, such as compact discs and games, to attract children offline. There have been cases in which predators have sent children bus tickets or money to cover the cost of travel to meet the children.

The natural characteristics of children may facilitate victimization. Children of all ages have a lack of emotional maturity that can make them more susceptible to manipulation or intimidation. Also, they have a strong desire for attention, validation, and affection, along with a lack of caution or instinct for self-preservation. Children are taught to obey adults’ requests and demands and may be less likely to know when it isn’t appropriate to do so. In addition, children are naturally curious about sex and other “forbidden” topics. It is important to note that children also may hesitate to tell a trusted adult if they are approached in an inappropriate way because of a feeling or the stigma of being a “tattletale.”




Also, children may become involved in criminal activity on the Internet. They can be perpetrators in sexual exploitation or harassment cases. Other crimes that children may engage in include sending viruses, hacking, gambling, illegally purchasing or distributing narcotics and weapons, fraud and illegally copying software or other copyrighted material.

As we adults become more aware and savvy about the dangers our children are exposed to, we need to join together to protect our youth. We need to supervise our own children and educate our students. We need to develop the awareness necessary among our children to limit their vulnerability and keep them safe.

ooo

Stanton Miller is the associate superintendent of Nevada County schools.


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