By Senator Mike Crapo
"Q. Can we MIRL?
"RUOK? … I think ILU"
Even ten years ago, deciphering the language that children and teens used came down to figuring out what new words described old feelings, objects and situations. What was "cool" in the 70s, "rad" in the 80s, and "sweet" in the 90s is "phat" today. Now, with the widespread use of text messaging on cell phones or computers, parents must also decipher acronyms which look more like secret code than the spoken or written word. Some, like "CD9" (Code 9: parents nearby) are not clearly evident from the acronyms. And, with the growing prevalence of online sexual predation, parents must familiarize themselves with this electronic "language."
If you are a parent, do you know enough about Instant Messaging (IM) language to know that the IM exchange printed above could very well be a sexual predator attempting to get your child to meet in person? In "English," this is the exchange:
"You there? Thinking of you."
"Question: Can we meet in real life?"
"I don't know…"
"Are you ok?...I think I love you."
"My parents are in the room!"
"Ok. Goodbye for now."
The United States Senate declared June, 2007: "National Internet Safety Month." As the Internet reaches more people, awareness and prevention of Internet crimes are paramount. Statistics show that 35 million children from kindergarten to grade 12 have Internet access. One in seven youth ages 10 to 17 received a sexual solicitation over the Internet. It's imperative that children, teens and parents realize and prepare for dangers that exist online.
iSafe, one of the largest national organizations dedicated to educating children about and protecting children from Internet predation, has been responsible for training 23,000 Idaho children over the past five years. It surveyed Idaho children and, among other things, found that:
• While 88 percent of students said they spent at least one hour a week on the Internet, 16 percent said it was 10 hours or more.
• 18 percent open emails from strangers.
• 26 percent admitted to saying mean or hurtful things on the Internet to others.
• 19 percent tell their parents nothing about their "online only" friends.
• 25 percent of students report that they would classify someone they only knew from the Internet and spoke to frequently online who seems to share the same interests, understand them and shares laughs and personal secrets as a "very good friend" or a "good friend."
• 8 percent of students report that someone they met online has asked them to keep that friendship a secret.
This is chilling to say the least.
Efforts are underway in Idaho and seven other states to decrease the threat of online sexual predation. In May, eight states, including Idaho, sent a letter to the online social networking site, MySpace, asking that it turn over the information of known sex offenders who use the site. MySpace has agreed to this request. I applaud these efforts which will help safeguard our children's Internet use, but also reiterate that parents are absolutely the first line of defense.
While the Internet has become largely indispensable for many business, consumer and research transactions, it's also a haven for those who would do terrible psychological and physical harm to our children. Parents must take the initiative to educate themselves about their children's online activities, in the same way that they stay informed about their children's activities outside the home. For more information please go to my website: http://crapo.senate.gov and click on the "June is Internet Safety Month" link from the homepage.
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