Most teens say they have also been directly confronted by the risks. Fully 71 percent acknowledged receiving messages online from people they don't know; 45 percent have been asked personal information from a stranger; 30 percent have considered meeting someone that they've only talked to online; and 14 percent have actually met a person face-to-face they only met online.
A sizable minority (40 percent) said they will usually reply to and chat with people when they receive online messages from someone they don't know. Only 18 percent said they'd tell an adult. For every child, there's a danger in a false sense of security about strangers on the Web, especially when people are generally bolder and more outgoing online than they might be in a real-life situation.
Many online teen communities offer warnings not to share personal information, explicitly declare rules against inappropriate behavior and urge users to report to them on anything fishy. But that won't prevent every potentially dangerous encounter from occurring.
Fortunately, parents have been scared enough by news reports and other warnings to talk to children about these Internet risks. While 33 percent of those 13- to 17-year-olds (and 48 percent of 16- and 17-year-olds) say their parents know "very little" or "nothing" about what they do on the computer, 70 percent say their parents have discussed online dangers with them in the last year, and 36 percent, especially younger teens and girls, report their parents have discussed Internet safety "a lot" with them.
The bottom line is this: In most media-and-parenting issues, we can blame a corporate culture that values profit over decency. On the Internet, there is a very real danger from individual predators who know how to go around all the elaborate and laudable roadblocks that corporate Websites put up to protect children. They can lurk in the electronic shadows on chat rooms about toys for grade-schoolers. They can be anywhere children engage the World Wide Web.
Parents fear for their children because they are young and innocent, even oblivious to the danger and sickness of sex criminals in our midst. Every parent must know one thing: Don't leave your child alone with the Internet.