By Ben Grey
Ask a parent, “What’s the first thing that
comes to mind when you hear the term
Internet safety?” The most common
answer is something about predators. And
that’s what we have to address.
Yes, bad things happen on the Internet.
And there is no minimizing how serious and
how bad some of those things can be. But
we can address them in a way that doesn’t
keep students from using one of the most
powerful tools in the history of humanity.
My message to parents regarding
online safety is essentially this: While
we shouldn’t pretend there aren’t any
dangers online, we must understand
the true nature of the dangers in order
to help our kids responsibly navigate
the Web. The reality is, the instances
of abduction are unbelievably rare. An
online sexual crime is much more akin
to a statutory-rape scenario than to abduction. And that
scenario requires ongoing interaction between a predator
and a child. Which means we can teach our kids to end the
interaction before it develops into the crime.
Of the students in the study discussed in a recent journal
article above, only 13 percent said they received any sort of
solicitation online. And only 4 percent said they received
an aggressive solicitation. That means that 96 percent of
kids didn’t experience even the first phase of an ongoing
process that the majority of adults seem to fixate upon
when talking about students using the Internet. Again, that
doesn’t minimize what the 4 percent are experiencing, but
it does put it into perspective. And understanding the true
nature of what the 4 percent are encountering helps us
work with our kids to develop the capacity to address these
situations when they occur.
The more alarming statistic, to me, was that 33 percent
of students said their parents know “little” or “very little”
about what they do online. And only 5 percent of students
said they told their parents when they received a solicitation
online. That’s something adults can address.
We need to be communicating with our kids about this.
A lot. Keep talking to them about what they are doing
online. What they are doing at school. What they are doing
with their friends. It’s a concept that’s been around as long
as we have, and that doesn’t change because the Internet
came along. In fact, the Internet simply amplifies it. It
scales a means of communicating in a way we’ve never
Perhaps we can soon move beyond talking about
Internet safety to talking about how we can help students
understand life online. How adults can understand life
online. And how we can all live it.