It is astonishing that even widespread reporting of the predatory opportunities created by the anonymity of the Internet has not alerted more parents to mind the trapdoor in their child's computer which opens to dangerous real-world encounters. This conclusion is suggested by a poll which shows the unpleasant experiences, ranging from bullying and cheating scams to sexual predation, of young people who had met strangers after Web chats. It involved 2,500 upper primary and secondary school children, who represent an age band particularly vulnerable to the inducements and manipulation of wily and depraved netizens.
The young may like to prise open the trapdoor leading to the unknown out of curiosity and get a frisson of dangerous excitement. Realising this, no parent should leave that prospect to chance. They must find approachable ways to keep in touch with their children's Web experiences, despite the protests of some who want a modicum of privacy at the very least. Unsupervised access to the Net is bad enough, with the risks of being befriended by adults who draw the children into the forbidden world of obscenity or pornography. Actual meetings that follow on from virtual encounters could be palpably worse, with the possibility of physical contact vastly increasing the degree of harm that the impressionable young could face.
The virtual world is but a technological extension of the real world. The parental care that seeks to make the physical environment safe for the young needs to be present in the Web world as well. The ability to communicate with children as a Sherpa, who has navigated the wayward ways of the world already, would help parents to guide their children as they wander online.