I’m getting pretty tired of having to straighten people out about this. People past a certain age, mostly my age and older, have a fear of new technologies that seems unshakeable. Much like people feared the lightbulb when it first appeared, as hilariously lampooned in James Thurber’s famous cartoon of his aunt staring fearfully at the dangerous “electric radiation” she imagined coming out of the light fixture on her ceiling. One of the “memes” that reflects this generational fear is “kids using the internet are vulnerable to sexual predators”. What people have to understand about sexual predators is that they are creatures of opportunity. The vast majority of them offend when it is easy for them to. Say for instance, when their sibling hands over a niece or nephew saying “could you change his / her diaper for me?” or the teenage son of the friend down the street whom we ask to watch our kids for a couple of hours while we run some errands. Or the coach of the girls’ track team at the local high school. They are camp counselors, priests, professionals, relatives, friends, neighbors. They weasel into any place of trust they can. Then there are the somewhat smaller number whose predatory urges and strategies to satisfy that urge are advanced enough:
They hang around the places kids hang out: parks, schoolyards, video game halls, movie theaters, any place where kids congregate away from home. Finally, there are the ones who drive around in vans and snatch children off the street. These are the ones we read about in the paper that kill when they’re done. It makes a good “lead if it bleeds” story for the evening news. But it’s far less common than type number 1. The internet is not inherently a jungle of molesting fiends. Get that through your heads. It is no more inherently a place of terrible danger than the public library. But I would hesitate to send my young child alone to a public library unsupervised and without any street smarts, at least in every city I have ever lived in. Parents who do not give their children street smarts are doing them a terrible disservice. It is necessary on any thoroughfare, real street or internet. You teach children to be wary of strangers, to look both ways before crossing the street, and you teach them to beware the false sense of security granted by internet anonymity. The true, actual inherent and insidious danger of the internet, and myspace in particular, is all the advertising. protect your children from advertising, please. It is very, very bad for them. and that is something that’s inherent to myspace.