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Underage Social Networking: Internet Predators Are Hunting For Your Kids

It wasn’t that long ago when the basics of protective parenting consisted of making sure your kids were in the house before the street lights came on. Those days are long gone.

Today, children are at risk in the “safety” of their own homes — via the family’s personal computer. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), 73 percent of kids aged 12-17 have profiles on social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace, and nearly half of them have uploaded personal photographs that may be viewable by the public. Approximately one in seven youths (10 to 17 years) experience a sexual solicitation or approach while online.

The Internet is crawling with predators who have dangerous motives, and, unless you thoroughly educate your kids about the risks of providing too much information online, they are vulnerable to exploitation.

Concerned parents should know:

• Predators seek youths vulnerable to seduction, including kids with histories of sexual or physical abuse, those who post sexually  provocative photos or videos and those who talk about sex with unknown people online;

• Boys who are gay or questioning their sexuality are particularly at risk. Twenty-five percent of victims are boys, and almost all of their offenders are male;

• One in 25 youths received an online sexual solicitation where the solicitor tried to make offline contact. In more 27 percent of incidents, solicitors asked youths for sexual photographs of themselves.

For parents who face the daunting task of preparing their kids to safely navigate the net, (a program of the NCMEC) exists to make that job much easier. The site includes games, videos, educational materials and personal accounts of actual kids who were victimized via the Internet — and ways that victimization could have been prevented.

kathleen cross