FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas -- In today's Internet age, social media - blogging, networking through sites such as MySpace or Facebook, chatting online and creating all kinds of digital material - is central to many children's and teens' lives.

Teens' efforts at connecting with friends and online acquaintances may put them, Family members and others at risk for Web predation.

According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project online report "Teens and Social Media," 93 percent of teens and pre-teens used the Internet regularly in 2007.

The report states that more than ever adolescents are using the Web as a venue for social interaction and "a place where they can share creations, tell stories, and interact with others."

The research found that 64 percent of teens, ages 12-17, participated in one or more content-creating activities online in 2007, up from 57 percent of teens in a similar survey at the end of 2004.

Online activities include sharing artwork, photos, stories, or videos; as well as creating or working on Web pages or blogs for themselves or others, including those for groups they belong to, or for school assignments.

Online sites can be useful when used with adult guidance, but adolescents may innocently post personal information and many are misusing the Internet without parents' knowledge.

Results from "Sex and Tech," a survey of teens and young adults conducted by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and CosmoGirl.com, released December 2008, found that 22 percent of girls and 18 percent of boys have posted nude or semi-nude pictures or video of themselves, and 15 percent of teens say that they posted the photos to friends who they have never met face-to-face.

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization tracking adolescents' use of media, commissioned a poll of teens and parents in 2009. According to that survey, teens are more active online than most parents realize.

The poll documented 49 percent of parents said their child was 13 or older before using the Internet without supervision, while 14 percent of teens said they were that old.

Twenty-three percent of parents said their children log onto social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace more than once a day, but 51 percent of teens said they check in more often.

Just 4 percent of parents think their children check social networking sites more than 10 times a day; while 22 percent of teens said they're online that often or more.

When it comes to "sexting," or posting explicit photos, only 2 percent of parents believed their child had posted naked or near-naked photos or videos of themselves or others, but 13 percent of teens admitted they had.

These studies show that children need guidance with using online services and protection from Web predators.

According to the FBI's "A Parent's Guide to Internet Safety," children can be indirectly victimized through online conversation, or "chat," as well as transfer of sexually explicit information and material.

The FBI warns that computer-sex offenders may also be evaluating children they come in contact with online for future face-to-face contact and direct victimization.

Parents and children should remember that online offenders can be any age or sex. For more information visit http://www.fbi.gov/publications/pguide/ pguidee.htm.

(Huicha Park, FAP Educator, contributed)

Page last updated Thu April 1st, 2010 at 16:23