On Monday, February 4th, I attended a discussion hosted by the Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes at the Dodge YMCA. The subject was online predators and our youth. When I first heard that the DA was taking up the issue of our youth’s usage of the Internet, I was ecstatic. The notion that a major elected official would address a subject we here at The LAMP are very interested in seemed fortunate.
However, once a few minutes of the presentation had gone by, it became very clear to me that the DA’s presentation was going to take a very different stance on the reality of our youth’s Internet habits.
In response to the article, in the Daily News, our Education Director, Katherine Fry, and I wrote a letter to the editor. We post the letter here for those of you to chime in:
Brooklyn DAs Warnings About Web Predators
On Tuesday, February 5th, the Daily News reported on a Brooklyn District Attorney-sponsored talk last week at the Dodge YMCA on the subject of protecting kids from online predators. The tone of the article, and the talk itself, was one of fear. No doubt parents are concerned about what their children are engaged in on the Internet, about who they are talking to, and about how much information they are giving out. It makes sense that parents want to keep their children safe. But it doesn’t make sense to scare them unnecessarily.
The D.A. talk referred to statistics about children’s online exposure to unwanted sexual material, solicitation and harassment as reported in a recent University of New Hampshire study, but without proper context. Left out was an explanation of what, exactly, was considered a sexual solicitation within the confines of the study, and the fact that many solicitations come from peers, and often from acquaintances. With very little online investigation, you will find that the study’s authors themselves have posted information putting the numbers in a context that is less scary than the tone created in the D.A.’s talk. The researchers also strongly urge that, for example, when talking to parents and educators about web safety, it’s important never to say that “one in seven young people had received unwanted sexual solicitations” without putting the larger social context around the numbers. When you leave that out, you’re only scaring people, not helping them to make good choices. But that is exactly what happened in the talk and in the article. And when a session such as this one, as the article pointed out, is aimed at adults who may not use the Internet regularly—or at all—it is necessary, and responsible, to not only talk about real risks, but also real benefits for children, teens and adults.
The Internet as a social-networking tool is here to stay and everyone needs more education about issues such as identity, privacy, and learning, among many others, surrounding this far-reaching communication system. The web is changing how we communicate and even how we understand each other and the world. The best way for parents to cope with this new world in which their children are growing up is to learn and grow in it with them. Certainly you want to see your children’s Myspace and other web pages. But don’t assume that because they have them they are immediately at risk from adult predators bent on harming them. Keep the lines of communication open with your young web surfers; try to accept that this is an important way for them to communicate, create, and have fun; and have them show you, regularly, what they do and where they go on the web. Keeping yourself open to something you don’t know much about yet—and are understandably fearful of–will go a long way in your own education. There are many digital media education resources available to parents and educators that go beyond fear-mongering. Some are right here in Brooklyn.
Katherine Fry, PhD
The LAMP (Learning About Multimedia Project)