Computer Crime Problems Research Center

Jeanne Albanese

On-line violence often teen vs. teen; experts tell parents to beware

Much media attention about the dangers of children surfing the Internet focuses on adults preying on children.

But just as often - or perhaps more often - it's teen-on-teen harassment, or worse, violence.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, almost one in five young Internet users has received an unwanted sexual solicitation. Juveniles made 48 percent of those solicitations.

On Sunday, Nonie "Annie" Drummond, 14, was killed by a 17-year-old she met over the Internet, police said.

"A lot of the cases that end badly are teens doing it to other teens," says Jean Armour Polly of Jamesville, author of "Net-mom's Internet Kids & Family Yellow Pages."

Drummond was home alone and meeting Spencer Lee King for the first time after nine months of chatting online and on the telephone.

For many teens, chat rooms, e-mail and instant messaging have all but replaced talking on the telephone. Teens are especially attracted to chat rooms, Polly says, because chatting gives the teen a feeling of social contact without having to look their best.

Teens are often tempted to pretend they're someone they are not.

Polly, a national consultant on Internet safety, says parents need to educate themselves on the dangers on the Internet, but the problem is bigger than the Net: Parents need to support their children, especially teen girls, emotionally.

Often, she adds, teen girls resent when parents or police break up their encounters with an adult they met on the Internet.

"This is the best thing that ever happened to them," she said. "This person paid attention to them, may have sent them gifts. This person understands them and is the only person in the world who understands them.

"We have not gotten a handle yet on how to meet kids' actual emotional needs. ... When we see a tragedy like this happen we have to ask, 'What did this girl need?'"

Local marriage and family therapist Susan Hartman says parents should keep computers in busy rooms such as the kitchen or dining room, and monitor what children are doing on them.

"Kids are going to experiment naturally, and they don't know the danger in the world," she said. "They depend on adults to screen the danger and teach them about the danger, and, if we're not doing that, we're not doing our jobs. How on earth could a 14-year-old know this evil kind of thing exists in the world? She was too young to know."

Polly says statistics show that 70 percent of parents fear incidents like this, but only 20 percent to 23 percent do anything beyond having one conversation.

"You can't just have the talk and walk away," said Polly, administrator for systems and technology at Liverpool Public Library.

"You've got to keep after it."

Parents should teach children not to give out any personal information over the Internet. Children are often too trusting and sometimes disclose things without realizing it.

Parents must teach children to be skeptical, says Polly, who is working with a local company to develop an e-mail filter program for young children.

Polly also suggests parents be aware of the types of screen names their children are using. For example, hotsexy16 is inappropriate.

It's important to constantly remind children never to meet anyone they don't know.

Children will probably ignore that advice, Polly says, so urge teens if they do plan to meet, to meet with parents or friends present or in a public place.

Most often, teens don't report incidents of harassment because they fear they'll lose Internet access for good.

"Parents have to try to not go ballistic, and try to be proactive rather than reactive," Polly said.


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