Although there have been some highly publicized cases of abuse involving computers, reported cases are relatively infrequent. Of course, like most crimes against children, many cases go unreported, especially if the child is engaged in an activity that he or she does not want to discuss with a parent. The fact that crimes are being committed online, however, is not a reason to avoid using these services. To tell children to stop using these services would be like telling them to forego attending college because students are sometimes victimized on campus. A better strategy would be for children to learn how to be "street smart" in order to better safeguard themselves in any potentially dangerous situation.
Teenagers are particularly at risk because they often use the computer unsupervised, and because they are more likely than younger children to participate in online discussions regarding companionship, relationships, or sexual activity. Some risks are:
- Exposure to inappropriate material
One risk is that a child may be exposed to inappropriate materials of a sexual or violent nature.
- Physical molestation
Another risk is that, while online, a child might provide information or arrange an encounter that could risk his or her safety or the safety of other family members. In a few cases, pedophiles have used online services and bulletin boards to gain a child's confidence and then arrange a face-to-face meeting.
A third risk is that a child might encounter E-mail or bulletin board messages that are harassing, demeaning, or belligerent.