November 19, 2008

"There’s been some confusion about what kids are actually doing online."

"Those concerns about predators and stranger danger have been overblown... Mostly, they’re socializing with their friends, people they’ve met at school or camp or sports."


David said...

So they are exposed to the predators in their peer group instead.

Hunter McDaniel said...

So we finally have a newspaper to tell us that the danger of online predators has been wildly exaggerated in order to sell newspapers.

What's the next shoe to drop? Maybe children don't really need to be chaperoned on Halloween to protect them from poisoned candy? And they probably won't get snatched up by someone on a playground (unless there's an ex-spouse in a custody dispute) ?

Seven Machos said...

It's different today than when we were kids. There are so many more potential dangers. Why, I remember, when I was young, we used to sleep with the doors unlocked.

And don't even get me started about the kids themselves. Their attitudes. The way way they dress and flaunt their youthful bodies like sirens of sex and vigor and vitality. The way they think everything should be handed to them. It was different when we were young.

Lem said...

First, the girl posted a message saying, “hey ... hm. wut to say? iono lol/well I left you a comment ... u sud feel SPECIAL haha.” (Translation: Hmm ... what to say? I don’t know. Laugh out loud. Well I left you a comment ... You should feel special.)

Oviously, these kids dont know Titus ;)

Synova said...

What was different when we were young was that bad stuff happened to kids.

And people saw it as shocking and surprising, or else they figured that the kid should have known not to play on the train tracks where hobos could grab them.

It's like watching the beginning to the latest Indiana Jones movie and cringing as the kids in the car are playing chicken with the truck and no one has seat belts and the girls are sitting up on the back and it's all a big joke.

Cars were not *safer* in those days. It's not *different* now so that we need to be more careful.

What happened is that people got in horrible accidents and died.

Theo Boehm said...

My 14-year-old is wired to various social networking sites I don't fully understand, but they seem like digital aids to the kinds of socializing that 14-year-olds have always done, and fairly innocuous from what I've seen.

And he does keep in touch with a girl he met at camp last summer. His first summer romance. Awww.

Earlier this year he did try to do ol' Dad one better and create a functioning blog. It was about the massive multiplayer online game to which he was formerly attached. It was an excellent how-to guide, with tips, screen shots and animations, various cheats and codes, strategies, interesting situations, etc.

I was amazed. It was extremely well-written, produced and executed. I had no idea he had that sort of talent.

It was so good that he soon got 12,000 hits a week, along with flame wars in the comments, totally clogged and spammed e-mail, and threats of lawsuits.

He said, "I just turned 14. Why do I need this?"

He pulled the blog, and went back to bubble gum Facebookey sorts of sites, where he doesn't get threats from trolls and lawyers, along with 970 e-mail messages a night, one of which might have been that English homework assignment which could get read in a week or so.

My son dreamt of having a popular blog. He now knows what it's like to have his wish come true.

Seven Machos said...

Theo -- My advice: next time, go the porn route. Far less hassle than a video game.

SteveR said...

When I was a kid we played with chemistry sets, used soldering guns to play with lead solder and burn wood. Broke thermometers to silver up pennies after rolling little balls of mercury around and when we got cut our moms doused us in mecurichrome. Sat in rooms and cars with multiple smoking adults and never used a seat bely til we had to.

Its was very safe back then compared to now.

Seven Machos said...

People of my generation are starting to talk like I pretended to, above. It's very sad. Among much else, I point them to these murders, these shorts and this movie.

Richard said...

I agree with the article. We've become a nation of overwrought fraidy cats who view any risk whatsoever as unacceptable and who fear all the wrong things in life. Swimming pool drownings are of many magnitudes more likely to harm your kids than are online "predators," but you'd never know it from the news outlets.

Meade said...

Over the last ten years, I've never been particularly worried about my 22 year-old daughter being exposed to the dangers over the internet but then I'm confident that I did a good job starting 20 years ago of teaching her how to look out for herself wherever she goes.

It's my 82 year-old mother I worry about being taken advantage of by predators and strangers. Over the telephone. She's way too friendly, helpful, and trusting. If she had a computer and email, she'd be handing out her bank account number to Nigerian princes every other day because he seemed like such a nice young man.

TMink said...

Mostly. Oh, I feel much better knowing that my daughter is mostly left alone by sexual predators.

How many times does your child have to be the target of a sexual predator before it is a problem?


Seven Machos said...

Face it. Online predators are straight out of a Grimm fairy tale. They also fit two well-traversed fears: that new technology is fraught with horrors, and that tricksters will steer our children to lose their sexual innocence.

What's really funny to me, though, is when you read about these guys who actually get busted by a sting operation. Because, yeah, flabby older guy, a 15-year-old girl definitely wants to have sex with you. Not the quarterback, not that alluring bad boy from study hall, not the 16-year-old who just got his license. You. You lucky dog.

Lem said...

Chris Hansen would say that this story was cooked up by a predator (scoreboard)

Synova said...

How many times does your child have to be the target of a sexual predator before it is a problem?

Of course, you don't want it to happen, but have you ever looked at the "statistics" for on-line sexual predators?

It's like looking at statistics for "hunger" in the United States that include such things as "food insecurity" even if a person never misses a meal, and those who eat a whole lot, but not enough vegetables.

The last time I saw a report or "statistic" listed on on-line sexual predators it was that something like 1 in 3 kids reported ever having someone say something, at all, to them, of a sexual nature.

Considering the truly disgusting language and outright physical sexual harassment that I remember from high school back in the "good old days" I find it shocking. What? Only 1 in 3?

Meade said...

Shhhh... the puppies are sleeping.

Seven Machos said...

To echo Synova, I would add that I got in serious trouble in eighth grade for exchanging some disgustingly bawdy notes in class.

Furthermore, I get sex spam in my email. Am I the victim of sexual predation?

Seven Machos said...

P.S. Sexual predation? How much is too much?

Meade said...

"Furthermore, I get sex spam in my email."

My daughter warned me about that. She said if you don't want to get your email inbox all jammed up with sex spam, don't go visiting porn sites. Then she said, "And pass that along to all your weirdo friends at that Althouse blog you're always hanging around."

Guess I need to learn how to hide my History.

Seven Machos said...

Wait a minute. So you think my frequent visits to and relate to the sex spam?

Interesting theory.

Donna B. said...

My oldest was in 6th grade when she won a portable telephone in an online chatroom trivia game.

That was the same year that some guy wanted to know what she was wearing and she replied her school uniform.

Well... I watched her online activities a little closer after she told me about that.

This was in 1988.

blake said...

Can we fire these guys?

Out of a cannon?

Seven Machos said...

Donna -- I don't think there were online activities in 1988.

Synova said...


Um... my husband and I are trying to remember 1988 and the few years before that when we were in college.

There was a chat function but we can't remember what it was called. A friend of ours got into it somewhat.

All text, of course, and you could watch answers come back from the people you were talking to, character by character. ;-)

Seven Machos said...

All I remember is hair metal and trying to have sex with high school girls. But I was in high school, and we were a lot more respectful about it than these kids today.

Eli Blake said...


You had internet in 1988?

Must have been on a small network, the world wide web didn't exist until several years after that.

Eli Blake said...

Seven Machos,

Maybe the guy who was asking Donna's daughter what she was wearing was actually Al Gore, he was working on inventing the internet.

Seven Machos said...

Eli -- Good call. And Al was lean and mean then. Too bad he invented a device that is only good for the perversion of our utes.

Synova said...

arpa net?

There was *so* internet in 1988.

And real-time chat.

So long as a person could log into a University mainframe.

blake said...

Guys, seriously: CompuServe had nationwide access with e-mail and chat in 1980.

In the '80s and into the early Web days, the 'net was an odd mix of high professionalism and sexual perversion.

Eli, the World Wide Web is just a protocol that sits on top of the Internet, which goes back to ARPANet, which was worldwide in the mid-'70s.

It wasn't until that nice Swiss professor invented HTTP that people realized they could sell stuff with pretty pictures that made the 'net mainstream--but it had been around for two decades.

Seven Machos said...

an odd mix of high professionalism and sexual perversion

No, no. You are thinking of the Internet now.

blake said...



Where's the high professionalism now?

And most of the sex is straight or at least vanilla. (Percentage-wise I mean.)

Pogo said...

Number one, the study is pretty long, but lacks data.

Two, it's from Berkeley. Berkely. Sheesh; I assume it's bullshit until proven otherwise. The data were taken from "questionnaires, surveys, semi-structured interviews, diary studies, observation and content analyses of media sites, profiles, videos, and other materials ".

See? Bullshit surveys.

The only text in the study that has anything to do with the claim about predation being overblown is the text below. How they arrived at "overblown" is uncertain. No data are provided. It appears they simply took the teenagers' word for it. Not terribly reliable, one way or the other.

"The other vulnerability teens talked about is that of the stereotypical risk conveyed through fear-based narratives of the Internet, that of the stalker, the stranger, and the predator. Teens rarely mentioned these stories in our research (apart from noting that this was what adults were concerned about), but a minority of youth reported having negative interactions with predatory-type adults online. Those youth who seek out intimate communities online, such as gay teens, might be more at risk for this sort of unwanted stranger intimacy. Because, for all the opportunities to create community for gay teens, the Internet also puts them at risk as they seek this community. Robert, the white 17-year-old from Chicago, told a particularly touching story about his experience on the Internet as he was coming into his early teens.

A couple times a week, after my parents went to bed, I visited some Internet sites . . ., then after awhile, I found a chat room website, a gay teen chat room. I chatted with a lot of guys; eventually I started to talk to people outside of the chat room, on MSN Messenger. There were people who wanted to do things with cameras and pictures, and for a while I went along with some of it, not really doing too much. Then one day, it wasn’t a teenager who sent me their pic, but an old fat man. I was disgusted, beyond words. I smashed my computer camera, deleted my MSN, and barred any memory from those times out of existence until I recollect now.

Robert was trying to explore his sexuality the best he could, as a single gay teen, but in doing so, he ended up on non–age-graded sites, which, though not inherently risky or problematic, may be dangerous for marginalized teens looking for community. Instead of getting to experiment in more public and socially acceptable ways, through structured rituals of heterosexuality, gay teens often have to find their own way. On the one hand the Internet is an invaluable lifeline, but on the other, it renders them more vulnerable to situations such as this one.

New media allow teens to manage their vulnerability, permit them to have intensely emotionally vulnerable conversations, and render them potentially vulnerable to the forwarding of information about them and vulnerable to those who wish to take advantage of them."

MadisonMan said...

I don't know any of my daughter's peer group on MySpace. They're all facebookers.

TMink said...

Seven wrote: "Online predators are straight out of a Grimm fairy tale."

No Seven, you are misinformed. Part of my work as a clinical psychologist is working with sexually abused children. This brings me into occasional contact with teenagers who were sexually exploited over the internet.

As an example, last month I was working with a 16 year old quarterback who was exchanging photos with someone that he thought was a hot young thing. The HYT was in fact a 48 year old man with an extensive naked photo collection of teen boys. The perp was working with 7 boys in the area to set up meetings.

He is doing 125 years.

Because of my work, I have made some friends at the TBI, my state's FBI. The guy who works these cases is in Franklin, Tennessee, just south of me. He is a good guy, and that type of work, tracing and catching sexual predators on the internet, is all he does. He is not the only person so employed in Tennessee.


Freeman Hunt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Freeman Hunt said...

If you are a teenager who chats on the Internet, there is a 100% chance that strangers will inappropriately solicit you. The reason few such teenagers are actually abused is that few respond, and few are willing to go meet up with strange adults who inappropriately solicit teenagers on the Internet.

Pogo said...

It appears the conclusion that concerns about predators and stranger danger have been overblown was based on very little.

More Berkeley sociology Margaret Meade-type willfull ignorance, unscientific blindness, and big-word bullshit pretending to be a study.

I suspect the Grimm fairy tales were a mechanism to promote safety in children while shielding them from the fact that the monsters were not witches or trolls under bridges, but human predators.
Or else people then did not know the truth either, never suspecting humans were so capable of such heinous acts as these.

Meade said...

"Berkeley sociology Margaret Meade-type..."

Ahem. That would be Margaret Mead, without the second "e."

Family history has it that the tribe split off several generations back when some of the spelling-lazy data-forging members went west while the rest of us stayed on the farm back home in Indiana, grew corn, played banjos, and for the most part eschewed online sexual perversions.

Pogo said...

jeezus. She couldn't even spell her own name right!

Meade said...

Although there WAS Uncle Larry... but then he ended up changing his name to Flynt and starting over somewhere in Ohio after being tarred, feathered and run out of town on a rail. But like I say, he changed his name altogether.

Henry said...

Trey, you are correct that the threats are real. But real threats are not the same as probable threats. There's no easy answer to how much freedom to allow kids, but my personal feeling is to treat the risks as risks, not as phobias.

Treating risks as risks takes a real bullshit detector when dealing with what the media serves up.

Freeman Hunt said...

I think it would be interesting to conduct a poll of parents as to whether or not they would allow a child to have an Internet-connected computer in his room. I would bet that parents my age, who grew up with the Internet, would be far less likely to allow computers in rooms. That goes doubly for parents like me who grew up with Internet-connected computers in their rooms. Just a guess.

Our computers will always be in public areas of the house.

Darcy said...

Thank you for the, at least partial debunking of this study, Trey and Pogo. As the mother of a 15 year old, this very much concerns me.

And I hear you, Henry. There's a fine balance to that, I think. But I also think times have changed since I was a kid. I know that is easy to say, and easy to poke fun at, but I believe it all the same.

Darcy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Darcy said...

And same here, Freeman Hunt! Computer is in the living room.

It's funny, though...he's been bugging for a laptop, and there's been a lot of "Mom! I'm 15!!!". I'm glad I read Trey's comments. He still may get the laptop, I haven't decided, but the "15" stuff is not going to be nearly as effective for a while! ;-)

Pogo said...

My main problem with the "study" is that the researchers are too comfortable giving conclusions on something the study was not designed to evaluate.

It's an observational study only, consisting of many anecdotes and some surveys. It was not even intended to ask about predation, so how can they draw any conclusions at all?
It's dishonest and wholly unscientific.

This study says absolutely nothing at all about whether online predation is overblown, underblown, or blown just right.

Donna B. said...

In the '80s there was QLink, CompuServe, and something else (starts with P) I can't remember, and then AOL.

IRC, bulletin board forums were available too.

The huge drawbacks were the phone bills and busy signals. And 300 baud modems.

Things were so bad on QLink we joked about having to put our 5 1/4 in floppies in baggies before inserting them in the drive and signing on.

I never really worried about it too much, because I figured there was a greater chance of them actually meeting a predator in their jobs or at school than meeting up with one who approached them online.

This was long enough ago that they got their driver's licenses at 15. I had a lot more to worry about than the time they spent on a computer.

Had all the social networking sites been around then, I'd have paid MUCH more attention.

TMink said...

Henry wrote: "But real threats are not the same as probable threats. There's no easy answer to how much freedom to allow kids, but my personal feeling is to treat the risks as risks, not as phobias."

Well said, and I completely concur. Safety training is also VERY helpful in turning a threat to a non issue. Those types prefer easy marks by and large. And hysteria never helped anyone, as you so aptly expressed.


Theo Boehm said...

Ah! What short memories people have!
Maybe I'm just getting old.

I was on CompuServe since 1988, and on AOL since 1989, when it was a Macintosh-only service with something like 75,000 subscribers. I was a chat room host on AOL from 1992 until 1996, when it went flat-rate and mass-market, and basically got rid of all us semi-employees who worked in exchange for free access. AOL charged by the minute and was expensive before '96.

I also had access to the Usenet and other BBS services for a time earlier in the '80's. That was truly the Wild West, although narrow bandwidth and lack of graphics would make it seem totally geeky today. Trolls and assholes were the same, however.

Usenet and BBS services were Internet-based, while CompuServe and AOL were originally closed, private networks that later went Internet. Both CompuServe and AOL policed their various forums and chat rooms with real, live people (I was one), But the days of the aggressive CompuServe sysop and the AOL chat room host went by the boards because of cost, employment law, and other legal and control issues.

The technology of policing content through software methods also improved, so us liquid-cooled filters were replaced by more abstract entities, who did not require bathroom breaks or get distracted by wives reminding us about the leaves that needed raking and why were we spending all that time on that goddam computer when the place was falling apart.

Now I can yell at the kids for spending too much time on the *bites tongue* computer, when their rooms are a mess and what about that homework?

Joe said...

Are parents aware that the typical teenager will hear, and be dealt, far more shit from peers than strangers, by mammoth margins. As a side note, through my experience raising both boys and girls, girls can be far worse than boys in all aspects of inhuman behavior toward both boys and girls. (I've also noticed repeatedly that teenager girls are more sexually aggressive than teenage boys. This observation isn't just for this generation either.)

blake said...

P is for Prodigy. Sears and IBM, I think it was?

At some point, the computer loses value as a tool if it's in a highly trafficked area.

But peers are about a zillion times more dangerous. Letting your kid have a computer in his room is definitely safer than sending him to school for 8 hours a day or more.

One hopes that by the time they're able to get into serious trouble, they're smart enough to avoid it.

knox said...

I suspect the Grimm fairy tales were a mechanism to promote safety in children while shielding them from the fact that the monsters were not witches or trolls under bridges, but human predators.
Or else people then did not know the truth either, never suspecting humans were so capable of such heinous acts as these.

Pogo, I've wondered about this myself. And have had similar thoughts about the mythology of creatures like vampires, werewolves etc... were they just a way to explain brutal murders or the work of serial killers--before people knew such a pathology existed? I guess we'll never know the answer.

Freeman Hunt said...

Letting your kid have a computer in his room is definitely safer than sending him to school for 8 hours a day or more.

I agree with that. Like you, we don't plan to do that either. :)

Donna B. said...

Prodigy... that's the one. I don't know why my itty bitty brain could only come up with Prozac when I would try to think of it!