WEDNESDAY, APR. 13: An alarming number of young girls are putting themselves at risk by posting explicit pictures on Facebook and BlackBerrys.

The trend has been blamed for a rise in referrals to social workers.

Experts at Child and Family Services have warned that parents who do not monitor their children’s activities on the web risk subjecting them to a new world of danger.

Common

One major concern is over young teenagers posting “inappropriate” images of themselves online and distributing them to friends.

Sherri Vanderpool, social worker with the department, said: “It is becoming much more common.  A lot of young girls are willing to do these kinds of things.

“They think it is fun. They think they are just playing around or someone pressures them into it.

“They might send an image to one person and not think it is going to go any further — but it goes around like wildfire.”

Incidents often start as an attempt to impress a boy or an effort to get attention. But it can become much more dangerous.

In one high-profile case in 2009, a string of young girls were abused by a predator who befriended them on Facebook and encouraged them to send him explicit pictures. Annisha Peets, a social worker who interviewed victims in the case, said: “A lot of it spoke to self-esteem issues.

“The person was making them feel good about themselves.”

She believes more must be done to stop children from going to such extreme measures to get attention.

She said: “It is about educating the children about not taking these photos in the first place and not posting them in any form that can be transferred.”

Ms Peets warned that many older parents and grandparents who look after children are still unaware of the dangers of the internet. Facebook in particular, with its option to make ‘friends’ with anyone on the site, has the potential to expose children to predators.

New websites and new technology, such as BlackBerry messenger, are making it more and more difficult for parents to keep track of who their children are talking to.

It is a particular problem for parents who know less about technology than their kids.

Ms Peets said: “BlackBerrys are getting into children’s hands when they are a lot younger. You have 10-year-olds who have a BlackBerry now.

“They are required to have computers for school so they are computer literate at a very young age. We tell parents to ask for their passwords, go on their Facebook pages, put parental controls in place.

“Sometimes they don’t know how this stuff works. In other cases you have grandparents looking after children and they don’t have a clue about the Internet.”

Intervene

Maureen Trew, intake coordinator for Child and Family Services, warned that it is important to intervene early in cases where children were acting inappropriately on the web.

She urged parents to educate themselves about cellphones and the Internet and to seek help if they feel their child is acting inappropriately online.