Report Calls Online Threats to Children Overblown

The Internet Safety Technical Task Force, which was established about a year ago, released it’s final report this week and found that the danger online to children may not be as bad as thought. That bullying is a greater problem than the threat of sexual predators.

Here are some quick links to check out if you want to read it yourself:

You should definitely read the Executive Summary and the two other articles I listed above. Read the full report if you have the time. I admit that I’m still working through it.

In my opinion, the most interesting statement in the Executive Sumaary is the following paragraph:

  • Minors are not equally at risk online. Those who are most at risk often engage in risky behaviors and have difficulties in other parts of their lives. The psychosocial makeup of and family dynamics surrounding particular minors are better predictors of risk than the use of specific media or technologies.

And then this group of sentences from a later paragraph:

Technology can play a helpful role, but there is no one technological solution or specific combination of technological solutions to the problem of online safety for minors. Instead, a combination of technologies, in concert with parental oversight, education, social services, law enforcement, and sound policies by social network sites and service providers may assist in addressing specific problems that minors face online.

Which kind of confirms for me what I have felt for a long time. That this is not a new problem. Only a new avenue for an old problem. That parents need to be teaching their kids about being safe in their neighborhood and online. That when parents have the “birds and bees talk” they also need to have a talk about what personal info their child can and can not share online. It’s all about the education we give our children and weather our children heed our advice and follow safe practices online.

The fact that cyber-bullying is believed to be a larger problem than sexual predators seems to be a double-edged sword. On the one hand it’s good news that sexual solicitation of minors by adults is less than previously believed but that solicitation of minors by other minors should be studied more and that bullying and threats are far more rampant occurrences. Both sexual solicitation of minors by minors and bullying are big problems offline as well! Problems that many communities are struggling to deal with.

So the good news is, you don’t have to worry about the strangers so much. The bad news is that your children have to worry about people they know! Technology alone is not the problem, nor does it provide an easy answer. Parents just need to keep talking to their children.