Published: Sep 01, 2006 01:14 AM
Modified: Aug 23, 2006 04:55 PM
This is one of those stories you never want to see.
David Jones, a well-known local middle school teacher and coach and a longtime volunteer with the Boy Scouts, was arrested Wednesday and charged with using a computer to solicit a minor for a sex act. Law enforcement authorities said they had been investigating him for several days and were waiting at the home of the child to take him into custody when he arrived there Wednesday. Since then, more details have emerged, and Wake County has also filed charges against Jones.
It's the kind of report that makes you recoil. Few, if any, offenses are more abhorrent than the sexual victimization of a child. There's a natural inclination to want to immediately bring down the harshest hammer of punishment on anyone so accused.
But as the school and community grapple with the shock of the report, we need to keep in mind that an accusation is not the same as a conviction. The district attorney says the case is strong, and the details that have come out thus far are highly disturbing, but it's important to let the investigation proceed and try to withhold judgment until the facts are before us.
That doesn't mean do nothing, however. We don't have to wait for the outcome of this particular case to take it as a powerful reminder to increase our vigilance about protecting our kids from online predators.
The Internet, of course, allows unprecedented opportunities to communicate with others. Teens tend to be intensely social beings, and through online social community sites like Myspace.com they can interact with a virtually limitless number of people.
The vast majority of those interactions are harmless. Kids write blogs, chat with their friends, trade gossip, debate the issues of the day and otherwise talk about the things kids have always talked about.
But the openness and anonymity the Internet affords also gives sexual predators a convenient avenue for finding victims and a vehicle for approaching them. Adolescents are particularly vulnerable, for a lot of reasons, and they're usually more Internet savvy than their parents are.
How do we minimize the risk? You could just forbid your kids from going online, but that's not a reasonable or practical solution; it would be like responding to the reality of automobile accidents by never letting them set foot in a car.
Short of the Luddite option, there are a lot of things we can do to keep the kids safer; in fact, you can find long lists of recommendations on the Web.
Some ideas are deceptively simple: Keep the computer in a common room, for example, rather than in a child's bedroom.
Most of the precautions, though, come down to the two intertwined things it's our job as parents to do anyway: educate (ourselves as well as our kids) and communicate.
Learn about the sites your kids use, and about the ways predators can exploit those sites. Talk to your kids (and don't do all the talking; listen too). Pay attention to what they do online; surf with them.
Be frank with them about the dangers, and make clear that in online activity as in other areas there are boundaries: You don't respond to e-mails or instant messages from anyone you don't know, for example, and you don't post personal information about yourself -- or anyone else, either -- online.
Parents have a powerful, innate desire to keep their children safe from all the wounds life is capable of inflicting, from skinned knees to broken hearts. We discover all too early, of course, that it's impossible to protect our children from everything. The world is full of hazards as well as glories.
The Internet is a vast new terrain, and it too holds riches as well as risks for our kids. It's our responsibility as adults and parents to learn enough to help our children explore it safely. If we don't make that effort to educate ourselves, we're in the position of trying to teach safe driving skills to kids who are much better drivers than we are.