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Keeping Your Daughters Safe Online

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How It Begins:

“Hi there. It’s me. What ya doing? Can I be your friend? You can talk to me anytime. I am always here. My door is always open. Can you post your pic? Post a really cute one.”

Who am I?

I am a voyeur. I am a sexual predator. I will talk with you and tell you things you want to hear so that I can look at your downloaded pictures and fantasize about you. I will let you talk anytime. Shoot, I might even meet you one day after you trust me. You won’t know I am a voyeur or a predator. I will post a picture that will make you trust me.

Do you still want to talk to me now? Do you still want to post more pictures?

The Scary Reality:

With increasing online dangers for both pre-teens and teen girls, my research as an educator has expanded from teaching secondary language arts and social studies to the world of online technology. Through the course of overhearing conversations and concerns recently from students, I am seeing the urgency to educate students (especially girls) about sexual predators who are caught up in the world of voyeurism and cybersex. Teaching kids to be smart in their social media choices, whom they get involved with online, and how they conduct themselves online is fast becoming a new and interesting challenge. I hate to say it, but voyeurs and sexual predators have more control than we think. Computers, iPhones, and the new 4G network hands the control to these predators…it’s like secrecy on a platter.

The Discovery of Katherine Tarbox

Katherine Tarbox’s autobiographical memoir, A Girl’s Life Online, written in 2000, offers a chilling yet real story of online sexual predation, through the words of a young teen.

This story is an eyeopening yet appealing page-turner about how sexual predators begin seeking out young kids on the internet. Katie, at age 13, fell victim to developing an online relationship with a 23-year-old man, and ultimately paid a terrible price for it. Katie was an elite student and nationally ranked swimmer attending a top school, with workaholic parents. She reveals her innermost torment and struggle: “When you are thirteen, you spend most of your time trying to figure out whether you’re a kid or a teenager or an adult, when you are really part of each. You feel like people are constantly judging you for the most superficial reasons. I was beginning to feel completely alone.”

The educator and parent inside me began to cheer as if I had found a diamond in the rough. The book intrigues me in more ways than one. My first thought was that the book is located in the Young Adult section of Borders; my perusal of reading material in this section typically allows me to find relevant and engaging literary sources for my growing student library. And although most reviews of the book say this is a “must-read” for any parent, the book is shelved in the Young Adult section. This causes me to wonder which audience this book should be geared to…parents or teen girls?

My second thought, upon reading the book, deals with the content. Katie’s inner thoughts and descriptions of conversations with her girlfriends regarding their sexual curiosity are definitely in there. While the terms “having sex,” “blow job,” “fingering,” and “breasts” are used, the actual descriptions of the acts are that of…well, a thirteen-year-old and fairly innocent. For obvious reason, I wonder if the content is appropriate for pre-teens to young teens?

My last thought is more of a question: Could this story both protect young girls from the potential dangers on the internet and educate them?

Some of my thoughts and questions may be controversial for other parents and educators. I have concerns about whether 10- to 13-year-olds might not be mature enough; is it too early to be teaching this type of content, or are we opening the door to sexual education? Won’t this potentially increase our kids’ curiosity? The answers to these questions are all yes.

As a parent, I think it is much too early to have to broach some of these topics with our kids. They need to be kids, right? Unfortunately, this is not reality, and I am realistic. The door to sexual education is already open. It is called the internet. While we might have filters on our computers at home, does your daughter’s or son’s friend have a filter at their home? And what about curiosity? I think we are fooling ourselves if we think “our kids don’t know about _____ yet, because they are only 10 or 11 years old.” (Insert whatever you want into the blank space.) I’m a mother of two teen boys (ages 14 and 15) and I know that they know about _______. I know what they know because I talk with them. Even though I have sons, I have decided to have them read this book.

My recommendation? As a parent and educator, I say, “Let your girls read this, or better yet, read it together.” The pros are you will get to have conversations with your daughters and when the questions come up, you will be there to answer them. I have already created a girls’ group reading unit utilizing this book. Of course, permission has to be sought to teach the unit due to the nature and content I described above, but is that really a con when we should be having these conversations?

The truth is most parents are afraid to expose their kids to what is sitting right in front of them, every day. The internet is explosive. The real issue should be this: Is teaching the awareness of sexual predation on the internet earlier in age better and safer? Is it better for parents and trained educators to guide young pre-teens and teens through these realities and possibly save young girls from potential danger, or should we shield their innocent eyes? Are we really protecting them?

In the words of Katherine Tarbox, “There was a certain kind of power, control, even romance in knowing that together we were building our own relationship that no one else could influence, control, or even see. In my mind he was no longer just an on-line buddy that I met in a chat room. He had become the love of my life. I loved the way he talked. It was soothing and sweet.”

Katherine Tarbox ended up being one the first known victims of sexual predation from a online pedophile. The courtroom battle was known as United States of America v. Frank Kufrovich. While this is now in Katherine Tarbox’s past, it does not have to be another girl’s future.

What will you decide?

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