Why does Internet Safety rank 5th in Parents top 10 Health Concerns for Children in 2009?

New national poll results released today by C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital show that parents’ top concern for their children’s health is obesity, followed by drug abuse, and smoking.

What concerns me is that Internet safety ranked 5th, registering more concern than child abuse and neglect, alcohol abuse, and teen pregnancy.

internetsafetyrank

What’s wrong with this picture?

This Internet safety angst is disproportionate to actual risk, and does not serve parents or families well.

The Internet is not a dangerous environment sucking the lifeblood out of thousands of teens; it’s a great place with some risks that need to be managed through skills training and awareness education combined with establishing age appropriate infrastructural boundaries and guidelines.

Providing this education and support is critical to helping youth have positive online experiences but we are not facing an epidemic of emotional or physical damage due to Internet use.

You know, if we talked about traffic safety in the same sensational terms as some news reports use to cover Internet risks, we would have headlines screaming that “more than 40,000 people die every year in traffic accidents, and several hundred thousand more are injured.” We would have ‘experts’ recommending parents keep their tweens and teens away from roads. And though the traffic death and injury rates are unfortunately accurate, we would consider the hysteria absurd, and recognize that keeping teens away from roads is not the solution.

Internet safety risks vs.  Teen pregnancy risks

Though teen pregnancies came in tenth on the list of parents’ health concerns for their children, teen pregnancies have increased for the first time in 15 years according to research released in July 2008 by the National Institutes of Health.

In 2006, there were 22 pregnancies for every 1,000 girls in the U.S. aged 15-17, or nearly 139,000 births.  Along the same lines, 1/3 of girls in the United States got pregnant before age 20, and more than 435,000 babies were born to teens between 15 and 19 years in 2006, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A cutback in community resources for youth over the eight years of the Bush administration could help explain the increase in teen pregnancies, said Michele Ozumba, director of the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention.

The risks involved in teen pregnancies are far heavier than risks posed by Internet activities, yet pregnancy prevention education has been reduced, not strengthened.

Internet safety risks vs. Child Abuse risks

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released their Child Maltreatment Report for 2007

During 2007, an estimated 794,000 children were determined to be victims of abuse or neglect by Child Protective Services according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Among the children confirmed as victims:

  • Children in the age group of birth to 1 year had the highest rate of victimization at 21.9 per 1,000 children of the same age group in the national population
  • Nearly 60 percent (59.0%) of victims suffered neglect
  • More than 10 percent (10.8%) of the victims suffered physical abuse
  • 7.6% of the victims suffered sexual abuse; and
  • 4.2% of the victims suffered from psychological maltreatment.
  • An estimated 1,760 children died due to child abuse or neglect
  • More than three-quarters (75.7%) of the children who died due to child abuse and neglect were younger than 4 years old;
  • Of the perpetrators who were parents, nearly 90 percent (87.7%) were the biological parent of the victim.
  • Of the perpetrators who were child daycare providers, nearly 24 percent (23.9%) committed sexual abuse.

As the recession increases pressures on struggling families, child welfare workers across the region are seeing a marked rise in child abuse and neglect cases. Some suburban counties have seen more than 20 percent increases according to the Washington Post.

Another piece of telling research conducted in July 2008 by Teenage Research Unlimited revealed that 69% of teens who had sex by age 14 reported some type of abuse in a relationship, with slightly more than one-third saying they had been physically abused.

About 10 percent of the teenagers surveyed said they had had sex by age 14, while 20 percent said they had sex between the ages of 15 and 16.

One in five 13- or 14-year-olds in relationships say they know friends and peers who have been “struck in anger” by a boyfriend or girlfriend. Sixty-two percent have friends who have been called stupid, worthless or ugly by their dates.

But despite the number of teens and tweens who say they have experienced abuse or say they know someone who has, only about 51 percent say they are aware of the warning signs of hurtful dating relationship.

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