I’m Almost "Old"

Teenager Sabeba Suri publishes her musings on ZDNet.com about why 40-year-olds want to be on Facebook. Although somewhat amusing to hear this perspective, her post is simplistic at best, offensive and callous at worst. She ultimately concludes that it is just plain “creepy” for people over 40 to use social networking. I think the major flaw of her argument is that she is confusing “old folks” using SN with them contacting her and other teens via SN. I agree that the latter can be pretty “creepy,” while the former would, ultimately, be none of her business. If non-hip, non-teen people want to use SN, why should she even notice? Wouldn’t it be just as “creepy” if a 17-year-old wanted to befriend a 40-year-old? Note: if that happens to you, I bet you it is To Catch a Predator looking for TV fodder, so don’t take the bait.

Some of the responders to her post raise some excellent exceptions as to why older persons may be contacting those significantly younger than they are. How about teachers who want to stay in touch with students (hey! that’s me!), or relatives who live far away and are not as savvy to Skype? The most powerful response, however, is one from a person in the military who states:

“So I am 30, and I talk to 18 year olds on a social networking site. Why? I am in the military and 90% of my troops are ages 18 to 21. Now I don’t have anyone on my friends list who is not family or close to me and no friends on my list are under 21. But, I talk to 18 year olds. Why, if one of my soldiers has a problem, how do I relate to them? They would loose confidence in me and wouldn’t come to me if I could not communicate effectively in their language. That Means I must stay current, and sometimes it helps to bounce ideas off of other people their age to get perspective. I also spend sometimes 200 plus days away from home, thousands of miles away. When I can get time to send a message home to say I am alive, It’s a little easier with a post, I’ll save the phone call for my family.”

While I will try to be sympathetic to a teen’s limited perspective, it would help if her editors shed a little light on the matter before writing such a hostile post.

No Second Chance

Florida now lists teens as young as 14 on the state’s sex offender registry, according to the Sun-Sentinel. Florida legislators unanimously approved the law, citing the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act as justification (note: complying with this Act can result in significant federal funding). According to the article, “The Adam Walsh Act, which went into effect last year, requires children 14 and older who engage in genital, anal or oral-genital contact with children younger than 12 to be included in community-notification laws, such as the predator list.”

Critics of the law state that parents, who are often the first to learn of teens’ behaviors, “may be reluctant to seek help for their children if they will be labeled and their families’ homes identified on the sex offender list.” Thus, the behaviors will go unreported and the youth will not receive treatment or counseling. Other critics argue that a minor who commits sex offenses should be treated and rehabilitated — not punished for the rest of his or her life.

Currently, in accordance with Megan’s Law, a person who is classified as a sex offender has to register for the rest of his or her life — and any contact information needs to be made available to the pubic. However, a person can petition to be removed after a minimum of 10 years.

A level head in a sea of panic

You can always count on Larry Magid and Anne Collier of Blog Safety and Net Family News for a solid perspective on online predators. Last week they published an editorial in the San Jose Mercury News entitled Tell teens about good, bad sides of social networking. Here are the highlights:

  • MySpace has announced it has deleted 29,000 profiles of sexual predators. Assuming that there were no duplicates, that represents less than 5% of the known sexual predators in the US.
  • Using a news analysis, out of the 12 million teens online, 100 have been victims of sexual exploitation. That percentage is too small to calculate.
  • None of the youth that have been sexually exploited as a result of an online sexual predator were kidnapped — all went willingly with their assailant, and many had sex “consensually” (as much as you believe a minor can consent to sexual activity — but that is a discussion for another day).

The major message these two want to convey is to keep these numbers in perspective. That panicking about this issue and prohibiting teens from going online will only drive them “underground” — away from healthy discussions.

And given that most sexual abuse happens closer to home, driving your teens away is probably the last thing you want to do if you are really concerned about sexual exploitation.