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Teen Avatars Lure Online Predators

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Dr. Alanna Levine: Are you web-savvy or are your kids better at navigating the web than you are?

In this day and age, it is important for parents to educate themselves on what kids are doing on the web and to monitor their activity. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), children of all ages should be supervised on the Internet, but it's especially important to talk to your older children about the dangers of sharing personal information on the web, and about the ways in which they represent themselves online.

teen girl on laptop

Studies have found that 1 in 5 adolescents have been solicited over the Internet. And, a new study in the June edition of Pediatrics found that the more provocative an adolescent girl's self-presentation online, the greater the chance she will be solicited. Many social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook allow members to post pictures and brief descriptions of themselves. Some sites allow them to create avatars, custom virtual identities in cartoon form. Parents should talk to their teens about their online personas and explain the impact of their chosen representations. Even the cartoon avatars can be provocative. Adolescents are easy victims for Internet predators because they don't always have the social sophistication to recognize when they are being targeted, or to handle the situation appropriately.

What should parents tell their teens?

  • The web isn't private -- personal information can be gained from member profiles.
  • Be careful about both the pictures you post, and the text.
  • If you are uncomfortable, don't respond. Tell an adult.
  • Never get together with someone you meet online.
  • It may seem fun to pretend to be someone else and talk in a chat room, but this can be dangerous and should be avoided.
  • Do not give out your passwords, even to your best friends.
  • Never send a message you would not say face-to-face.

How can parents ensure that their kids are safely surfing the web? There are some great resources available:

Check out our Internet Safety Resource Guide

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