Parents Feel There's Little They Can Do to Protect Kids Online

In the wake of yesterday's publication of suspicions that 32-year-old Avinoam Braverman inappropriately propositioned 1,000 underage girls online, a number of Web forum cited as the suspect's preferred targets have taken measures to ensure parents their sites are secure.

One social network posted instructions to minors to contact police over any communication they or their friends had had with possible pedophiles, and another site posted its security and privacy guidelines prominently on its homepage.

Still, some parents remain unconvinced. "The sites are too easily breached," said Riki Cohen, who runs the parents' blog "Lost Mothers" and was formerly administrator of the teen social networking site Shox.

"The specific case revealed yesterday doesn't surprise me. The emphasis on pictures there is strong," she said of Shox. "As a mother I tried to do everything so that my kids wouldn't use that network. A lot of young girls post sexy, offensive pictures, and I always thought it's a shame that there was no one on the other end protecting them."

Cohen said she remembered only a few occasions in which parents grew suspicious of their children's communication and asked the site to provide them with IP addresses of users sending inappropriate material.

Nowadays Cohen makes sure to closely supervise her son's Internet use.

"This kind of case raises the awareness and concerns of every parent, but I'm always an alert mother," she said of the suspicions against Braverman.

Thus far she has been able to persuade her son not to sign up for the most popular social networking site, Facebook - perhaps because he is only 8.

It's a jungle out there

Most parents seem to be not quite as alert as Cohen.

"Most parents basically say, 'We can't prevent this. The kids are online, all their friends are online, and if you're not there it's like you don't exist,'" she said. "But we can't just leave our kids without supervision."

Still, Cohen believes that parents are not the only responsible party. "These sites have contributed to the fact that pedophiles can do what they want unimpeded," she said. "I'm sure there are many more cases like the one revealed yesterday. [The sites] say they don't want to be Big Brother and censor content, but it's disingenuous to say, 'We don't interfere - it's parents who have to supervise.'"

Efrat Monsheri-Goren, administrator of the parental-advice forum on the Ynet news and information portal says she believes parents view the Internet as an unsafe place, a "jungle" even, but do not feel they can do anything to protect their children.

"If you don't live face-to-face, but live on the Web yourself, it's very hard to supervise," she said.

Monsheri-Goren said she receives many messages from parents of children as young as 7 or 8 whose Web history includes pornographic sites.

"As parents we always teach our kids to be careful near roads and not to cross the street alone, but the virtual highway is much more dangerous, because a child can't distinguish whether he is talking to a 10-year-old from his class or an older person pretending to be a 15-year-old girl," she said.

"The truth is that parents don't know whether what's behind the screen is dangerous, because pedophiles check how 'penetrable' the terrain is before acting," she said. "That's why the main responsibility to monitor what our kids are doing."