business and technology: e-commerce screen shotThe Silk Road sounds like a title of a romance novel, but in reality the story behind it is much more sinister. It is the name of an anonymous online market place for illicit drugs and has made headlines this week as the Federal Bureau of Investigations shut down the original version and arrested the person who started it. I first learned of the Silk Road last week at a symposium for pediatricians. A guest speaker at the conference, who is an expert on substance abuse, highlighted the fact that many teens are well aware of how to get drugs – illegal drugs – on the internet. I was dumbfounded (and so were nearly all of the other pediatricians in the room)! If something is illegal, shouldn’t it be a challenge to order and have delivered to your home? Apparently, it’s not that hard at all.

The Silk Road is known as the eBay for drugs. It uses software that hides your search engine and reroutes your traffic to make your purchases anonymous and untraceable. The currency used is called Bitcoins and it’s estimated that the person behind it, Ross Ulbricht at only 29 years of age, sold more than $1 billion dollars worth of illicit substances on his site. Now the original Silk Road has been shut down by the FBI, but there are reports that a new Silk Road is up and running and looking to hire more staff to support it. This new Silk Road offers free software and different web browsers for even more ‘security’ for the buyer.

What does this mean for parents of teens? To me, it re-enforces the need to monitor what our teens are doing on the internet. I’m not endorsing sitting over their shoulders every time they’re on the internet, that wouldn’t be possible as we have laptops, tablets, smart phones, etc. But I do think parents should periodically check in. If your teen is sitting in their room on their tablet, stop in and ask how things are going, can you see what they’re up to? If your teen is on social networking sites, make it a rule that they must be your ‘friend’ on the site. If your teen starts asking for special software, e-currency exchanges, or asks how to erase a search history be suspicious and ask more questions.

If you are concerned that your teen is using illicit substances or distributing them for profit, trust your gut. Approach your teen and let them know your observations and why you’re concerned. Talk to your health care provider about resources.

For more information on internet safety and drug use, see our previous posts:

Keeping your Adolescent Safe Online

Just a Click Away

Drug Use Among Teens series