July 1st, 2008
05:17 PM ET

Missing 12-Year-Old Girl - “Stranger Danger” doesn't help

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/07/01/art.brookebennett.jpg caption="Police are searching for Brooke Bennett who has been missing since she was dropped off at a convenience store Wednesday to meet a friend." width=295 height=320]
Dr. Lisa Boesky
Clinical Psychologist
Author, When to Worry: How to Tell if Your Teen Needs Help–and What to Do About It

The disappearance of 12-year-old Brooke Bennett initially focused on who she met online, but now the investigation also includes her uncle (a registered sex offender) as a “person of interest.” One year ago, 19-year-old Donna Jou disappeared after going to a party with someone from Craigslist.

Thousands of children and teens are sexually assaulted by relatives each year. Every parent warns their kids about strangers—but unfortunately “Stranger Danger” does NOT seem to be effective for the dangers of the “Internet” or relatives…

Kids often don't realize they should view Internet friends as “strangers.” The Internet creates a false sense of intimacy, so if your daughter has been talking to someone online, she probably feels like she knows him. He's not going to be one of those people who would hurt her, right? The only problem is that if she is wrong, it can lead to tragic consequences.

Children would never consider their uncle, step-father, or cousin to be a “stranger.” Yet most male sex offenders have siblings, cousins, nieces and nephews, many of whom are married with children. If kids hear mommy or daddy saying these people are okay, why would they have any concerns? Family = Safety right? Not always…The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior (especially when it comes to male sex offenders).

Some girls are more vulnerable to being preyed upon by Internet “friends." If they are desperate to connect, feel loved or cared about, or even hungry for flattery and attention —they are at high risk. Once they meet someone who will fill those needs, their judgment often goes out the window. These are normal needs and most girls get them met at home or through friends. If they aren’t—the girls are likely to be vulnerable to get their needs met in a dangerous (and sometimes tragically fatal) way.

Parents need to talk to their daughters about the false sense of intimacy that develops online and how fake it can be, as well as the dangers that can happen. They need to find out WHY she's meeting strangers on MySpace—what void is she trying to fill? Children and teens need to know about people who have disappeared as a result of online meetings. You may want to use real-life examples (See www.donnajou.com, a 19-year-old who disappeared after meeting a guy she connected with on Craigslist.)

Don't tell her about these cases in a lecturing tone, or a holier-than-thou way. You want to come from an "I'm concerned about this because..." angle. Parents should stay away from phrases like "you should" or "you shouldn't." Try "I'm concerned" or "I'm worried" instead. The last thing you want her to do is shut you out.

If your daughter does meet someone online and you later find out about it, ask her what made her think this was okay before you dole out consequences. This helps you get out of your own head and into your teen's logic. They have a completely different mindset about meeting people online than we do. There's no way to understand them unless you get a sense of where they're at–not where they "should" be at.

Keep in mind; it's part of the teenage years to feel invulnerable and "unique." They truly believe "this will not happen to me." Parents need to show there are other teens just like them out there and it did happen to them.

Filed under: Crime & Punishment
soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. Oscar

    That what happens when parents allow their children on the internet and not watching what they are doing. Truth is no child has any bussiness on the internet. People was able to learn without the internet for many years it is possible.

    July 2, 2008 at 12:01 am |
  2. Diana Hall

    I can not find your page about this Texan crazy who shot two men in the back because they were on his property and stealing material goods from the neighbor, but please connect this email to the crime discussed: I have been in a situation where a man escaped from jail and landed in my back yard in the mid of the night. My children wil always remember this and it has traumaized them for life because I left them alone upsatirs in their bedroom to deal w/ the officers. I called 911.I did not go out w/ a shot gun and shoot this guy but demanded immediate call. Thank God I had a dog who was barking at him. This kind of action to let this crazy man off by the court is like going back to the wild west days. HELP. Is that what we have become? I think so, as the federal court has decided in their ivory tower in Texas. I come from a hunting family and we have all given up our guns. This is a new age. Is a man's life not to be protected even in the case of fear of material goods stolen from a neighbor? Yes, I see the scare of a burglary by two freaky men, but the other creep shot these men dead assuming they would hurt him, not his neighbor who wasnt even home. This creepy man did so because he had a reason to take his hate out. Take cover, hide , alarm system on (thats what they are for!!)call 911 and have a gun ready if you are threAtened w/ your life but why is this even discussed for fairness? What is wrong w/ our justice system? PLENTY. I have such little faith left, but in God.
    Diana Hall.

    July 1, 2008 at 11:08 pm |


    July 1, 2008 at 9:51 pm |
  4. Amber

    You have to take control of your young daughters, I was once 14 and had my mother drop me off at my boyfriend's house and told her I would find a ride home. my mom has always been easy going and let me go anywhere. My boyfriend was not home and I waited hours near by his house then after he came home and had to go in the house, I was wondering how I would get home at 1 am in the morning, I didn't want to call my mom, I don't know why because she would have came and got me, I took a ride home from some drunk guy, I actually put trust into some old man that was drunk and I was so scared but I just wanted to go home, I made it home but WHAT WAS I THINKING! My point of this is, I am 31 now and realize what was i thinking? What in the world was I thinking.... I was not thinking, a 14 year old can not think or make decisions on their own, they should not be left alone ever, I thought I knew better, I obviously didn't. So at 12 a girl would put her trust into so many people or just think nothing bad would happen, teens and young kids don't really think!!!! We the parents need to think for them and watch everything they do and be strict!!!!!!!

    July 1, 2008 at 9:49 pm |
  5. Jolene

    Dr. Boesky: Although I agree with what you are saying, I don't think this problem is unique for young girls only. Your comments make it sound that it is just young girls who are vulnerable. I think all kids, regardless of their sex, need to be cautious. Thanks.

    Jolene, St. Joseph, MI

    July 1, 2008 at 9:06 pm |
  6. Annie Kate

    I appreciate the dangers one faces on the internet. My youngest has a MySpace page and meets her friends from school and church there to carry on whatever conversation they were having that day at school. She routinely shows me her MySpace page so I know what is on it and I know where it is. I have worked for many years as a web programmer so I know the dangers out there.

    However, with that in mind I do have to say that sometimes you make very good friendships on the web. One of my other daughters met her now husband 12 years ago on the Internet. Because we did not know the young man and he was from out of town we chaperoned their get togethers. They ended up going to the same college and 12 years after they started "dating" they got married – he's a wonderful young man and I feel my daughter is very lucky to have found him. Not the usual outcome I know of a child meeting someone else on the internet but with careful supervision and rules that are clearly laid out, an Internet friend does not have to be inistant poison.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    July 1, 2008 at 8:54 pm |
  7. Betty Ann, Nacogdoches,TX

    Hi Dr. Boesky,
    Such a tragic story. 99% of the information people say about themselves on the internet is false.
    Haven't we all known people who meet others on the internet only to find out that they are not who or what they say.
    For example; I have a friend who dated a man she met on the internet for over a year before she found out he was married and had children!
    I believe that since many times relatives can not be trusted, it is important to tell a child," if someone touches you in an inapproipriate way. . . "
    Thank you for you blog and information which could save others.
    Children should never be made to suffer~

    July 1, 2008 at 7:42 pm |
  8. Sandy

    Thank you for this I would hope that all parents see this and take heed of the valuable information that Dr. Lisa Boesky, PhD says about know where your children are!

    July 1, 2008 at 6:10 pm |
  9. Meg

    My heart goes out to the family of this poor girl, but I have to ask – who decided it was okay to drop a 12 year old off at a convenience store?

    July 1, 2008 at 6:09 pm |
  10. Cindy

    With the invention of the internet there really is no such thing as strangers to kids these days unfortunately. They put everything about themselves out on it and when they are contacted by someone that person is automatically their friend and they tell them everything. It is scary really! More needs to be done to teach kids that not everyone on the net is nice and is your friend. That some may want to harm them.


    July 1, 2008 at 5:47 pm |