Jonathan Garthwaite

6. Increased risk of exposure to incorrect information about human sexuality long before a minor is able to contextualize this information in ways an adult brain could.

7. And, overestimating the prevalence of less common practices (e.g., group sex, bestiality, or sadomasochistic activity).

This should be reason enough to monitor our children's access to the Internet, yet many parents I speak to still allow their children to have computers in their bedrooms.

Perhaps more risky than access to pornography, is the advent of social web sites such as Myspace and do-it-yourself video sites like YouTube.

Kids wear the number of connections they've made on these sites as a badge of honor. By clicking from one profile to the next, they add people to their network of friends.

This kind of little game or contest would be a cute idea for an activity at school, but put 14 year-olds together with adults in an online context, add in an unhealthy dose of anonymity, and you've got trouble just waiting to happen.

After all, one in five teens is approached online by a sexual predator, according to a recent study done by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Having your child posting their pictures or videos online only increases this risk.

You've certainly seen recent network television stings, which entice child predators through chat rooms on popular online services like America Online. With MySpace or YouTube, children are essentially innocently creating a version of an online dating profile or commercial accessible by their friends and plenty of sickos trolling the web for victims.

Kids use these sites to share their thoughts, interests, and personal information with friends. They often post pictures, hometown, school information, their interests, their sport activities, after school activities, and family issues.

It would be terrifyingly easy for a child predator to show up as your daughter's cheerleading practice ended, knowing what your daughter looks like, who her friends are, where she lives and act like a friend of yours who is doing a favor for you by picking up your kids after practice. It's the typical predator's story and the Internet has facilitated this evil practice.

Myspace isn't a brand new phenomenon but it certainly has been gaining speed and if you've got a teenager, it's on your doorstep. It might already be in the living room as well. If you haven't already, its time to talk to your children about the risks posed by seemingly innocuous web-surfing and chat rooms.

Many parents are hoping for laws or technology to solve all these issues but that is a foolish gamble. In the end, it comes down to parents taking control over the Internet in areas the community can't police – namely, their own homes. Take an extra minute tonight and double-check the web sites your son or daughter has been visiting. You might be surprised by what you find.


Jonathan Garthwaite

Jonathan Garthwaite is General Manager of Townhall.com/HotAir.com



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