I missed this on NBC’s Dateline last night– if I had a DVR I might have recorded the “Catching potential Internet sex predators” episode. Good grief. What a scary world we live in.

It has always been scary, actually, but as more powerful technology tools become available, the bad things people choose to do with them are often more highly publicized than the good things. Here is the article lead from this investigative report:

In any home where there are kids with computers, there are parents with concerns. Teenagers can spend hours chatting online, but who are they chatting with? On the other end of that instant message could be a complete stranger — or a sexual predator. It’s a dangerous side of the Internet, one that’s growing and many children are at risk. So we went undercover, filling a house with hidden cameras.

Soon, a long line of visitors came knocking, expecting to find a young teenager they’d been chatting with on the Internet, home alone. Instead, they found Dateline.

We want to warn you some of what you’ll read is explicit. But parents need to know what their kids can confront when they sit down at the computer.

The following statistic from this report is staggering: “Law enforcement officials estimate that 50,000 predators are online at any given moment.” So my question is, to you as a parent or caretaker of children: if your children are online, do you know what they are doing, who they are communicating with, and what they are saying? Whatever your answer to these questions, you need to read this article. If this TV show was available for purchase and download via iTunes for $1.99, I would probably buy it. Too bad it’s not.

This blog post from the Dateline correspondent on this report, Brian Hansen, is also a very troubling eye-opener.

My technological gripe about this dateline story is that the available video portions are accessible only by Windows-based computers running IE 6 and Windows Media Player 10. But, after reading the transcript of the entire episode, I actually think I am glad I am not able to watch this.

Good grief. I almost feel physically ill reading this. This statement from the show is chilling:

“If you look at the Internet and the amount of people who are soliciting these type of crimes, your chances of getting caught are probably fairly slim,” says Lt. Jacoby.

I am reminded of the movie “A Few Good Men,” and the memorable court testimony provided by the actor Jack Nicholson, who played Colonel Nathan R. Jessep. In court, he emphatically says:

Son, we live in a world that has walls. And those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who’s gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinberg? I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago and you curse the marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know: That Santiago’s death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives. (beat) You don’t want the truth. Because deep down, in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that wall. You [need] me there. (boasting) We use words like honor, code, loyalty…we use these words as the backbone to a life spent defending something. You use ’em as a punchline. (beat) I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom I provide, then questions the manner in which I provide it. I’d prefer you just said thank you and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon and stand a post. Either way, I don’t give a damn what you think you’re entitled to.

At least I can share one positive note from this article: Some of the sick individuals featured in this Dateline special have faced some negative consequences as a result of the program.

I think we need more Colonel Jessep’s patrolling the virtual corridors of cyberspace. My thanks to those on patrol right now, as I write this, who protect and defend the walls which protect us and our children from the “grotesque and incomprehensible” horrors which some (apparently many) seek to make a reality for the naive, innocent, young, and defenseless.

In the end, for each of us who are parents and educators, the responsibility for this protection lies at home. It is to us that the baton has been passed to protect and defend. I am Colonel Jessep for my own children, in my own home. As the Dateline article notes:

In the end, most experts agree it’s really up to parents to keep children safe from whoever’s out there.

The suggestions on page 6 of the article, “What Can Parents Do,” provides what should be “no-brainer” suggestions like putting computers in shared spaces in your home and communicating regularly with your kids. But what about laptops? More and more students are going to be getting their own portable, digital devices in the months and years to come. In this environment, we have all GOT to be saavy and proactive.

Blogging can be a disaster waiting to happen, as the article “Kids, blogs and too much information: Children reveal more online than parents know” details. This article needs to be read by everyone working with children. Consider this excerpt:

Blogs and their technology cousins, social networking sites, are all the rage among young Internet users.  About half of all blogs are authored by teenagers, according to a 2003 study by Perseus Development Corp.; and according to comScore Media Metrix, a majority of the top 15 sites visited by teens 17 and under in January 2005 were either blogs or social networking sites.

But it’s what’s on the sites that concerns Handy and other experts. A study of teenagers’ blogs published this year by the Children’s Digital Media Center at Georgetown University revealed that kids volunteer far too much information. Two-thirds provide their age and at least their first name; 60 percent offer their location and contact information. One in five offer up their full name.

Just as their is no true “substitute” for a good teacher, the same can be said for a good parent. Lock and load, people. Our need for digital vigilance at home and at school in protecting those we care for and love has never been greater.

The website WiredSafety (www.wiredsafety.org) has good resources on this topic. Another good source is GetNetWise (www.getnetwise.org).

We have GOT to be addressing this formally in schools, with both students and parents. Consider this quotation from a parent in the same article:

“I’m not sure there’s anything that can (fix this), it is so difficult to police these sites,” she said.  “How do you prove a kid is 16 or older?  Maybe information could come from the schools, newsletters that say, ‘These are things kids are suddenly participating in online,’  But it is very scary, and you don’t know who’s hands this information is falling into.”

Let’s guard the walls people. We can’t ignore the enemies who are out there, presenting clear and present dangers to those who are within our protective trust. Our kids need both you and me out there on that wall, standing guard. It is only together, communicating and learning in community, that we can mount an effective defense.

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One Response to Standing guard on the iWall

  1. Bud Hunt says:

    Thank you for this informative and passionate post. Lots of useful links to peruse. I agree — we’ve got to acknowledge both the potentials and dangers of these technologies — and we’ve got to do so now. Our children are far too important.

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