The Dangers of Social Networking

Remember when you were ten years old, and you had hundreds of friends from various parts of the world who all interacted with you over Facebook? No? That scenario doesn’t exactly describe my childhood, either, but it does ring true to many of today’s children. In our state, in our country, and throughout the world, an increasing number of children are using social networking websites.
We like to think that this is safe for children to be doing. After all, social networking websites have privacy settings. However, many children are either unaware of such settings, or simply don’t use them. As a matter of fact, a large number of children lie about their ages on their social networking profiles, deliberately avoiding the age-based privacy settings that these websites have so cleverly implemented. Of course, we also assume that the parents of these children are monitoring their social networking. This is true to a certain extent; most parents try to regulate their child’s internet usage. However, the rules are often poorly reinforced, and many parents are not as aware of their child’s internet activity as they believe themselves to be.

As a result of the increase in social networking, many of today’s children have already experienced cyberbullying. Most of us have heard of Megan Meier, the thirteen-year-old girl who committed suicide after having been bullied over Myspace a few years ago. While this certainly is an extreme case of cyberbullying, it is something that we can expect to see more and more of, especially with the increase in young social networkers. In less extreme cases, a child who is cyberbullied is more likely to experience depression, anxiety, bedwetting, headaches, and low self-esteem. These effects may even be long-term, following the child into his or her adult life. Unfortunately, most of the children who are cyberbullied are also bullied in school. As a result, the internet becomes an inescapable means of harassment to these children, forcing them to cope with bullying both in and out of school.
Another issue with children using social networking websites is their ability to “talk to strangers.” Many children today are using social networking as a means of making new friends. This is a scary concept because in reality, there are no guarantees that the people that children are befriending are the people that their profiles portray. Just imagine how easy it would be for a sex offender to make a fake profile, befriend an overly trusting child, and lure him or her to meet in person.
In addition to this potential danger, we have to consider that many recent internet-based sex crimes have been committed in a more straightforward manner than we anticipate. In fact, most of these sex offenders were upfront with the child about their ages and their intentions to have sex with the child. Furthermore, a majority of the children who met the offender in person did so on more than one occasion. Although this disturbing information is difficult to face, it demonstrates that many children are not mature enough to recognize the danger in their online activities.
With all of the risks that accompany children using social networking websites, why does it continue to be a problem? It seems like we should be taking action to prevent such dangers, yet more and more children are using social networking websites every day. Something must be done; no benefits of social networking can possibly outweigh the safety of a child.

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