SA's online predators

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“But my friends are all allowed!” This is a protest you’ll probably hear from your teen at some stage, if not frequently. If you are the kind of parent who leans towards rules-based parenting, with limitations and boundaries, you’ll find that it’s not always easy to apply these rules without resistance. Some rules may be there to ensure your child simply adopts good personal hygiene. Others may help your teen to avoid something as serious as being raped.

There has always been pressure on teens to “fit in”. With the increasing presence of teens on social networking sites such as Facebook, the peer-pressure rules have changed too.

It’s not always easy for a self-conscious (or even a gregarious) teen to make friends. The attraction of social media may lie in the amount of control a vulnerable teen has in portraying herself. She can use the images she wants, carefully choose words which appear clever or witty, and opt to be friends only with people who like her back.

The trouble is, a sexual predator such as an older man is quite capable of outwitting a teen, even if the teen considers herself “grown-up”. Flattery is easy, especially when the teen may not have the ability to recognise danger signals. It’s also easy to tempt the teen into making decisions which she’d probably be more cautious about making offline.

Even for adults, it is harder to discern tones and intentions in typed words, as opposed to speaking to someone in person. Adults have also become unwittingly involved with people they have met over the internet, but, regardless, children remain more vulnerable to sexual, physical and emotional abuse as well as being controlled by manipulative individuals, especially online.

There are awareness campaigns about online responsibility, as well as many different ways of helping to protect your child online, including internet rules, security settings and applications, and outright banning- the latter being tricky to enforce, as schoolwork is increasingly reliant on internet access, and many cell phones can be used to access the internet.

In two recent stories in SA, a 13-year-old girl was allegedly raped by a 45-year-old man she “met” on Twitter, and in the other case, a 14-year-old girl was abducted by a “boy” who turned out to be a 35-year-old man.

So, your kid comes to you and says “but my friends are all allowed!” asking for a social media account. Can you, in all confidence, say he or she is intellectually and emotionally mature enough for the responsibility? If not, it might be best to postpone your child’s entrance into this complex and potentially dangerous arena.

Do you think these “social media rapists” are merely isolated individuals, or are there others out there like them?


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