Internet Dangers Become Real to Teens

JONESBORO -- You wouldn't put your teenager in a room with a child molester.  But, unknowingly many parents allow such access to their kids through the internet.  To make the threat "real," teens have to see it for themselves.

"Hey Sarah, what color of underwear today?" asks an older man to a teenage girl looking curiously at him--wondering how he knows her.  The exchange is all part of a video being shown by the Arkansas Attorney General's office to young people actively using the internet.  A group of Annie Camp Junior High School students in Jonesboro viewed that video and others.

"I think it's really wrong for teenagers to put that much information on the internet," said Hannah Stanley, an Annie Camp eighth-grader.  "They should know there are predators out there that do that.  They shouldn't trust people they don't know."

Unfortunately teens do trust..sometimes blindly.  Before this presentation by the Attorney General's office to promote internet safety, a poll of teens in computer classes here showed just over 62% thought the internet to be a safe place; while only 37.5% did not.

"Even sexual predators go to the sites that kids go to," said Carol Robinson, Preventino and Education Instructor for the Arkansas Attorney General's office. "It never occurred to them. They thought it would just be kids their own age."

The problem for many teenagers is they don't realize how something seemingly innocent can turn into something so dangerous. Pictures can be put into computer software and seriously altered.  Reputations can be ruined and something far more sinister.

"I was surprised by the young lady that was killed because of an on-line relationship," said Abbie Wilbanks, an Annie Camp eighth grader.

"Just communication with people they don't know (is a problem)," said Carol Robinson, Prevention and Education Instructor for the Arkansas Attorney General's office.  "One of the groups in the class, I had a young person who said they had a thousand friends. You know i'm thinking there probably not all close friends."

That's why Robinson cautions teens to use privacy settings on all social networking sites like Myspace and Facebook.  Only add friends you know.  Never post personal information and never, ever set up a meeting with someone you meet on-line.  And by all means, never share your password.

"It's everyday like for them to be on-line and to share with their friends and to communicate and all that," said Robinson.  "But, I think through the classes today... They were enlightened and I saw the light bulbs go on."

But to keep that guard up is key.  Realizing friends may not always be the ones your talking to online is hard to understand at 13.  If you would like this internet safety program made available to a group of young people, just contact the Attorney General's office at 1-800-448-3014.