As I read yet another story today about a young girl missing after arranging to meet an anonymous man she ‘met’ on the net, and after hearing a story yesterday about a little boy who was ‘robbed’ online, I can’t help but wonder if the web might now be considered to be a serious threat to the health and safety of children who use it.

It’s somewhat cliched to talk about “when I was a kid” but it’s hard not to do that when we look at the ‘leaps and bounds’ technology has made and how that has changed the world for the children of today.

For example, when I was a kid I used to cycle around on my bike with very little parental interaction. My folks would tell me to check in with them from time to time if I was riding my bike, but this tended to happen by default as I used to often stop for a drink and I used to like waving at my Dad working in the front garden as I constantly circled the block. Innocence was, it would seem, under little or no threat.

These days young kids take to the web like I used to take to my bike. Online games, which include interaction with faceless people around the globe, open children to a host of interactions with people they would never have otherwise met. Kids that might have once written a private journal in a tatty book they kept hidden from their parents now seem likely to use internet services like Myspace or Xanga which provide the illusion of safety from the prying eyes of unaware parents, but not from predators on the prowl in this new digital hunting ground which must seem like a paradise for the kinds of people who previously had to operate solely in the darkest shadows of society.

Another more obvious aspect of the web the abundant access to pornography. While I don’t particularly have a big objection to porn I am concerned that young people now have access to an endless supply of the most graphic material one can imagine, and even material one might not want to imagine.

When I was a kid the only access I had to porn was through a lad at school called Scott who used to sell porno magazines he’d stolen from his father. By todays standards these magazines that I used to imaginatively hide under my mattress (duh!) would be considered little more than harmless titillation. Naked ladies with legs occasionally akimbo hardly makes the needle on todays pornometer quiver. The first sex video I ever saw was the dogiest fuzzy clip of what looked like two swarms of locusts rhythmically moving in time to German oohs and ahhs and the occasional words that we all learned, “schneller schneller.” It’s a far cry from the realities of todays world in which statistics suggest that children view, either by accident or choice, graphic pornography by the age of eleven.

In conclusion then, is it wrong for me to feel that the web, as wonderful as it is, might actually be stealing innocence from the innocent, robbing them like highwaymen used to rob carriages in the days when horse power really meant horses? If so, what are we to do? Is this the price of progress? And if it is then is it really a price we can afford to pay?

Perhaps as the internet generation grow up they’ll better understand the threats that seemingly lurk around every digital corner. Maybe todays victims will be tomorrows experts and therefore we might actually see some sensible solutions surface in what so far seems to be a sea of badly executed after thought measures that are more effective at making people who aren’t at risk feel that they don’t have to watch out so closely for those who are.

Police search for missing girl
15 year old missing with unknown male
Two girls mug ‘MySpace man” at gun point.
Xanga safety tips for parents
MySpace safety tips