Study Proves American Teens are at Serious Risk

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The highly anticipated results of a country-wide yearlong study on teenagers and internet dangers were announced yesterday. The study, which was ordered by 49 state attorneys general, has been met with serious media buzz- as many found the findings both telling and alarming. While most U.S adults have known for years that teens face potentially dangerous situations every time they log on, the attorney general research project demonstrated that the risks presented to children online are, in fact, frighteningly similar to those they will face in the real world.

The highly anticipated results of a country-wide yearlong study on teenagers and internet dangers were announced yesterday. The study, which was ordered by 49 state attorneys general, has been met with serious media buzz- as many found the findings both telling and alarming. While most U.S adults have known for years that teens face potentially dangerous situations every time they log on, the attorney general research project demonstrated that the risks presented to children online are, in fact, frighteningly similar to those they will face in the real world.

Emily Steel's January Wall Street Journal article, "No Easy Answer for Protecting Kids Online" highlights this concerning trend among websites frequented by teenagers. Abuse, bullying, hatred and pornography crowd the internet; and no where are they more prevalent, or more dangerous, than on sites geared towards teens. According to the internet danger study, there is a serious debate over who should carry the brunt of the burden for keeping kids safe. It is a bitter tug of war between parental activist groups and web technology companies.

"Clearly, the main responsibility is on parents. (But) because technology companies are providing this gathering space and encouraging children to come, they have a duty to put in place technologies that can help protect kids."
Attorney General Roy Cooper, North Carolina (WSJ)

So the majority of the responsibility for keeping children safe falls squarely where it always has: on a parent's shoulders. But as today's economic crisis forces more parents to put in extra time at work, while chat and networking websites continue to dominate the teenage social scene, there has to be a place for adults to turn for help.

As traditional internet safety and watch dog services continually fall short of their promises, concerned parents and activists have begun to seek out a more comprehensive program. Research, including the 2007-2008 attorney general study, has shown the most effective approach to be that of a fully managed internet filtering service. A parent guided, expert controlled, customizable safety net that gives adults more control, while taking some of the burden from them and keeping them informed.

Leading safety blogs like Block-Porn.Org agree with the study's assessment, calling for new options in the battle for children's online safety. With literally hundreds of new pornography, hatred, and gambling sites appearing every week, even the most diligent parent is likely to miss something. A recent Block- Porn blog post introduced parents to a new type of parental control: the artificial intelligence method.

No longer relegated to science fiction novels, AI is revolutionizing the way parents control what comes into their homes. These fully managed internet services, like the immensely popular My Internet Doorman (http://www.myinternetdoorman.com), let parents set the rules and boundaries, and then the experts take over the implementation process. In other words, they pick up where other services fall short. Instead of cookie cutter filters that block everything, all the time, or the easily bypassed password system, these managed services give parents the final say. Allowing certain things, blocking others- even shutting down the internet completely during certain hours provides more peace of mind for worried adults, while still allowing internet exploration for curious teens.

Internet dangers are not going anywhere. In fact, if this study is any indication, the situation is only going to get worse. The key, at least for now, is to keep the lines of communication open, while finding a service that can help you manage what your child is exposed to.

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Carlos Mendoza

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