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PostPosted: Sat Jul 14, 2007 7:45 pm 
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Reprinted Courtesy of the International Herald Tribune

New research suggests Internet safety focus should not be on personal info

By Anick Jesdanun The Associated Press
Published: July 13, 2007

NEW YORK: Almost every lesson on Internet safety warns against posting personal information like phone numbers and school names.

Researchers are now suggesting, though, that such advice, however well-intentioned, does not necessarily make children safer from predators and related threats.

In a recent study published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, researchers found no evidence that sharing personal information increases the chances of online victimization, like unwanted sexual solicitation and harassment.

Rather, victimization is more likely to result from other online behavior, like talking about sex with people met online and intentionally embarrassing someone else on the Internet.

"For a long time, we really didn't know," said Michele Ybarra, one of the authors of the study. "It made sense if you post or send information you increase your risk. It's also a very easy message: Don't post personal information and you'll be safe."

But Ybarra, president of the nonprofit Internet Solutions for Kids, warned that parents and educators must now reassess the lessons, saying resources might be wasted on tips that did not address the underlying problem. Instead of discouraging children from communicating, she said, the better approach was to teach them about what at-risk behaviors to avoid and warning signs to spot.

"We now need to be a lot more specific and accurate in our message," she said.

The research, published in February, was based on telephone surveys of 1,500 Internet users aged 10 to 17.

In a separate study of 2,574 law-enforcement agencies, researchers found that online sex crimes rarely involved offenders lying about their ages or sexual motives. The 2004 study, published in Journal of Adolescent Health, said offenders generally were not strangers, and pedophiles were not luring unsuspecting children by pretending to be a peer.

The research also found that online victims tended to be teens with troubles offline, like poor relationships with parents and depression.

"A lot of parents, I think, can breathe a big sigh of relief," said Anne Collier, editor of the online newsletter Net Family News. "If their kids are just socializing with their friends online, they are going to be fine."

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