In this column the past two weeks, I’ve begun to answer a reader’s question about summer health concerns. So far, I’ve talked about infections and diseases that are more common in the summer, but Internet crimes and illegal activity on the streets are also more common this time of year. Here are a few health hazards that can steal the innocence of a child and even lead to fatal consequences:
7. Increased cybercrime. With increased summer heat waves comes increased Internet crime, because predators are spending more time indoors. It’s no wonder that 75 percent of parents are concerned that their children may not understand how to be safe online.
We all know that the Internet has become sexual predators’ playground. Yet too few of us parents take that threat seriously. Putting anti-pornography defenses on our computers used to be the key, but with the proliferation of electronic media, everything has changed.
Today predators seek a child’s attention through social media, smart phones, game devices and any venue they can, including friends’ electronic gadgets.
Arnold Bell, special agent from the FBI’s Cyber Division, reported that 1 in 4 kids ages 10 to 17 have been “exposed to unwanted sexual material online.” He added that 6 in 10 kids online “have gotten an email or instant message from a perfect stranger … and more than half have written back. One in 33 kids (have) been aggressively solicited to meet their ‘cyber-friend’ in person.”
For parental help against cybercrime, check out “A Parent’s Guide to Internet Safety,” a primer put together by the FBI and available on its website. Also introduce your children to Web Wise Kids, which seeks to empower young people to make wise online choices.
8. Increased criminal activity on streets. We all know warm summer weather plus kids on summer break and lack of supervision can equal your kids chumming around those who might entice them to walk down wrong roads. Add some hard economic times, and you’ve got a summer that is super-ripe for neighborhood crime.
Here are just a few crime clips from recent news:
- Heat waves are creating hotbeds for crime in New York City.
- Neighborhood watch groups are seeing increases in crime in Erie, Pa.
- The county jail in Tulsa, Okla., has experienced a huge influx of inmates.
- Police are urging citizens in Boston not to fall prey to summer crimes.
- Chicago is known as a city increasing in murder and mayhem.
- Florida’s crime is heating up.
- People in Denver are wondering whether they will dub 2012 their new “summer of violence.”
Gang violence and migration continues to expand from metropolitan to nonmetropolitan areas.
The Department of Justice reported, “Among the very large cities, the number of reported gang-related homicides increased 13 percent from 2009 to 2010.”
If youths are not enticed by peers to participate in gangs and crimes, they still might find themselves in precarious situations. That is why parents conveyed in repeated surveys over the years that one of their greatest summer concerns is whether their children “know what to do in an unsafe situation.”
I will explain one of the best actions parents can take to reduce a child’s criminal involvement right after I discuss one more growing summer health hazard.
9. Increased drug use. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that daily marijuana use increased among eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders from 2009 to 2010. After several years of decline, use of Ecstasy has risen among eighth- and 10th-graders. Significant increases were reported by 12th-graders for annual use of LSD. Prescription and over-the-counter medications accounted for most of the top drugs abused by all three grades, including nonmedical use of Vicodin, Oxycontin and Adderall and OTC cough and cold medicines.
Drug use and criminal activity often are precipitated by kids hanging around with the wrong crowds. But beating kids to the social punch can occur when parents maintain healthy relations with their children, as well as arrange or influence the social settings (including online ones) and relationships best for them.
Getting kids involved in positive, character-building social environments – such as the local Boys & Girls Club, church youth groups, hobby groups, sports teams, summer camps and other outdoor excursions – is key. (Building up youth among youth is one of the reasons my wife, Gena, and I created our foundation, KICKSTART KIDS (KickStartKids.org), which is a martial arts program for at-risk students in public middle schools in Texas.)
A study from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University found that “hands-off” parents double the chances that their teens will smoke, drink alcohol or use illegal drugs. Most experts give the very same advice to deter a child’s gang involvement.
Don Larimore, captain of the North Texas ISF Gang Intelligence Unit, encourages parents to take four actions continually: Make time to talk and listen; help your child fill his time; pay attention to your child; and remember that each child is different, so each child will be motivated and distracted by different things.
The bottom line is that nothing is more powerful in deterring a youth’s drug use and gang involvement than a parent’s healthy relationship with him. If you keep your kids busy, if you orchestrate and invest in more of their summer events and gatherings, they’ll be less inclined to be involved with the wrong crowd.
It’s true that birds of a feather flock together. But even truer is this adage: We will never fly with eagles if we run with turkeys.
Write to Chuck Norris (email@example.com) with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook’s “Official Chuck Norris Page.” He blogs at ChuckNorrisNews.blogspot.com.