For quite some time now it’s been bandied about as “common knowledge” that “one in five children on the Internet has been approached by a predator”. You can buy entire books on the subject of how to protect your children.
I’ve long thought that the study that most of these reports are based upon warranted a bit more in the way of rigorous evaluation. I haven’t seen the survey questions that Mitchell, Finkelhor, and Wolak used in their survey, but the various write-ups I’ve read use language that leads me to believe that their conclusions greatly exaggerate the actual risk to children and teenagers. For example, I can classify random porn spam as “a sexual solicitation” (who hasn’t gotten an email with, “Lonely? Come see my pictures!” in the body somewhere). This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t take steps to keep your children’s email clean of porn spam, but it hardly represents an attack or real solicitation by a sexual predator.
Bruce wrote a post today that linked to a new study that appears to approach the question of online predation with a different slant that comes to a dramatically different result: turns out that using the Internet isn’t as horrifyingly dangerous as you may have previously thought. Some practical information and advice for parents on how to communicate the real risks to your children available here.