You’ve seen the commercials about online predators. You’re likely very careful, and try to watch what sites your children visit and might even have filtering software installed.
If your child shares personal information online, no software is strong enough.
Summer camp directors are waging war against personal sites online, pinpointing popular places like MySpace, MyCrib, Facebook and Friendster as potential for danger. These websites are overwhelmingly popular for young people, where many share personal or revealing information – the combination of pictures from last year’s camping trip and a note about the fun that they’re going to have in July might be all an online predator would need to track a child.
There is a real problem here, which many parents with full-time jobs and no interest in spending hours online can really understand. Imagine this: your child walks into a room where they are several years younger than most other visitors. These visitors range in age and background from a young single mother to a confirmed bachelor. There is no one around to keep language or conversation in check. Without going any further, would you feel comfortable allowing your child to spend several hours a day in this room?
In fact, the problem is so serious that the FBI had to launch the Crimes Against Children (CAC) Program in 1997. Since its beginning, the program has been overwhelmed.
The Pew Internet and American Life Project performed a telephone survey to help put the danger in perspective. This survey found that 65% of all parents and 64% of all teens say that teens do things online that they wouldn’t want their parents to know about. These “things” include visiting sites parents find inappropriate and chatting online with strangers.
81% of parents of online teens say that teens aren’t careful enough when giving out information about themselves online and 79% of online teens agree with this. With this one, we see exactly what summer camps are worried about – the things kids communicate, post, and say can get them into much more trouble than viewing porn.
Predators and Summer Camp
“This is probably the number one issue facing all camp programs,” said Norman E. Friedman, a partner at AMSkier Insurance – a major camp insurer. Many teenagers post things like their first and last names, phone numbers, and pictures – all personally identifying information that enables a predator to easily identify and find them.
Camp directors are looking at this in combination with their programs and are trying to take action. Banning or limiting digital cameras and insisting that references to their camp be removed from personal web pages, blogs, and social sites like MySpace and Xanga are some of the steps being taken.
Some camps are also trademarking their names so they can legally order removal of their use online. Camp Fernwood, a girls camp in Poland, Maine, is one of these.
“We are asking local police enforcement for more of a presence and are beefing up internal security, all of that directly because of MySpace,” said Fritz Seving, Fernwood’s director. “We’re bringing in a child psychologist to spend two days with campers talking about good decision-making.”
Parents have been contacted by many camps, asking them to be aware of and check the sites their children use. While many are objecting the level of scrutiny, they’re generally going ahead and wading the ‘net waters. One mother contacted by a camp director first stated that her daughter doesn’t have a website, finally relenting to say that she might have one but that it seemed fine.
The next day, the mother called back to say, “Upon further review, we’ve had her shut her site to make it private.”