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Parents Need To Be Wary Of Internet Dangers For Teens

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(CBS) – We’ve all heard about stranger danger online, but a growing number of young people – particularly girls – are learning about other Internet dangers the hard way.

CBS 2’s Roseanne Tellez reports on some websites that could wreck a girl’s self-esteem, or worse.

Kids are so quick to pick up new technologies that some parents may assume they’re ready to use social networking websites, but have you checked the websites your teenage daughter’s been on lately? She could be putting herself at risk of bullying and abuse.

“It just brings out the coward in everyone,” said Krishna Mundada, 17. “No one knows who you are so you can say whatever you want without getting caught.”

“t’s like the computer is your mask,” Maryam Abdallah, 16, said.

The Vernon Hills High School Students are talking about a website called “Formspring,” which looks like any other social network site. But Internet experts say it encourages vicious, anonymous comments.

“It can be anything from ‘You’re fat, you’re ugly.’ It’s mostly appearance type stuff, that’s how it begins. And then it’ll spiral to ‘You should kill yourself. Why do you come to school? You should drop out,'” Vernon Hills Police Det. Jim Koch said.

In an email, Formspring said that it takes safety and privacy very seriously and has developed practices for blocking inappropriate content. But Internet safety experts said parents can’t count on websites to look out for their kids.

Sarah Migas, an Internet safety specialist with the Illinois attorney general’s office, said, “This requires intentional parenting, spot checking, talking to your kids about who they’re talking to, how they’re interacting with people and what kinds of things they’re posting and what other people are posting about them.”

Formspring is far from alone in being a social networking site that that is potentially harmful for young girls.

Dr. Michelle Borba, a parenting expert said that, “For example, one is called the (Miss) Bimbo Game. (You can buy) breast implants and if you earn a certain amount of points in life, you can even buy yourself a sugar daddy; totally unhealthy and you do not want your daughters in any part of it.”

The makers of the “Miss Bimbo” game defend it, saying players’ average age is 19 and that their players can tell the difference between a game and reality.

But sites that play to body image – like some that promote eating disorders – can be dangerous and demeaning for vulnerable young girls.

“We had a student that developed an eating disroder, basically resulting from the bullying that was going on online,” Koch said.

Here are a few ways to protect your teenager.

• Invest in parental control software;
• monitor your teen’s online history;
• search your child’s name on Google, you may be surprised what you find;
• and, finally, limit their time online.

“We also need to talk to our kids about how to use technology with integrity; with respect for ourselves as well as respect for other people,” Migas said.

As a representative of the Illinois attorney general’s office, Migas has talked about internet safety to school kids throughout the state.

Her quick tip for young people is to think of the “P’s before Posting.” Would it be appropriate for your peers, principal, priest, parents? If the answer is no, don’t post it. It could get a life of it’s own on the Internet.

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