Internet Children 'Can Confuse Fantasy with Reality'
Fri 28 May 2004
By Jane Kirby, PA News

Children can become so embroiled in conversations in internet chatrooms that they are unable to separate fantasy from reality, an Internet expert warned today.

Belinda Sproston, who has helped several UK police forces tackle internet crime, said children could become desensitised to information on the worldwide web.

She added: "Kids are allowed to spend an inordinate amount of time on the internet, or it is not controlled. They can become addicted to the internet and the information they are finding and they can overdose on what’s out there."

"They can become so embroiled in that particular subject that they can’t divorce reality from fantasy and they become desensitised to the information."

Commenting on today’s verdict in Manchester, she said the story was "bizarre".

"This boy must have been so embroiled with this conversation that he was not able to tell the difference between right and wrong."

Mrs Sproston is head of Global Marketing for CyberPatrol, from SurfControl, which provides parental control software to help parents manage online activity.

She said parents should ensure their children only visit chatrooms where conversations are closely monitored by the provider.

She added: "Most of the chatrooms are not monitored but those that are will say so. We recommend that parents make sure that their child goes to a monitored chatroom because it is a safer environment."

"The conversations that these boys were having would not have been allowed in a monitored chatroom. They would have been chucked off."

She said parents should keep an eye on where their children were going on the Internet, adding: "The key with parents is that they need to be involved and have a dialogue with their children."

The time is fast approaching, she said, when parents should be required to go on a course to show them the benefits of the internet, but also the dangers.

She added: "From the Internet perspective, if you have a particular inclination towards something like a sexual fetish, role play or fantasy, the internet will deal with the acceptable side of this. But it will also deal with the weird, the obscure and the dangerous aspects of that inclination as well."