Estrich: Parents need help teaching kids to navigate the net

Her grandmother was the one who suspected. Too long in the bathroom with the phone. She even missed making cupcakes with her sister and me. Something was wrong. Very, very wrong.

“Check her phone,” her grandmother told her daughter. She could not believe what she saw. And read. From a man. He sent pictures. He asked for pictures. Yes, those kind of pictures. He wanted her to call him “Dad.”

She is 11.

She met him online.

Or, perhaps more accurately, he found her online.

There should be a law, and in California, at least as of last week, there is.

The new law in California, the first of its kind in the nation, requires major platforms — including ones that don’t cater exclusively to kids — to protect kids from online predators.

How? That’s the point. If we parents knew how, we could protect our children ourselves. We don’t.

Whether you like big government or not, there are just certain things that, try as we might, even the most responsible parents can’t control.

That’s when we look to the government for help and when the government needs to place the responsibility on those in the best position to protect our children. And that’s not us, try as we might. That’s the internet platforms.

You think it can’t happen to you, that your child is protected. Think again.

Of course she no longer has a phone. But after years of going to school online, being online is as natural to kids these days as breathing. But so much more dangerous.

Online predators are everywhere. She says he’s 13. She claims she doesn’t know him. It’s in her parents hands to deal with, mine just to worry and to sound the alarm.

I’ve known this child since she was born. I never would have guessed. That’s the point.

Whose child will be next?

How do we protect them, especially when they are more tech-savvy than we are?

The answer is to expect more from the folks who are making billions of dollars with their algorithms, to expect them to police the activity of predators and children, to block access to those who send obscenity to children, to recognize images and alert parents, to help parents exercise control.

How? Let them figure out how. If the best and brightest minds of a generation are figuring out how to target me with advertising I really don’t want (how many anti-aging creams and foundations does anyone really need?), then they can also figure out how to target the creeps who send pictures of their body parts to little girls.

If it invades someone’s privacy, invade away — there should be no privacy when it comes to child abuse; if you communicate with children, there should be no expectation of privacy.

Eleven-year-olds should not be exposed to this.

The warnings these days go beyond candy from strangers. Enforcing them is not as easy as throwing away the unwrapped candy on Halloween.

The legislation in California passed the state Senate by a vote of 33-0. In a divided body, there were no divisions on this one. California was first, but other states, and Congress, needed to follow suit. This is not an issue about which reasonable people can differ.

We used to worry when our kids turned 16 and got the keys to dangerous instruments, also known as cars. So we taught them to drive, sat pretending to brake, endured the close calls.

Teaching them to drive was something I could do. Teaching them to navigate the world online is something parents today need help doing.

The help cannot come soon enough.

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