Dr. Lisa Boesky
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
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