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Internet fuzzes line between private, public

INTERNET SAFETY TIPS FOR PARENTS

Establish rules for

Internet use

Keep the computer in a common room

Communicate

Discuss with your child the importance of talking about ever feeling uncomfortable about something that happened while online

Have your child give you their e-mail or MySpace page password

Be informed

Frequently check the history of Web sites visited

t Public meeting provides parents the low-down

on the dangers of the Internet.

POULSBO — As comedian Dave Chappell once joked, the Internet would be an awful and dirty place to live; full of foul pictures, profanity, unsolicited advertising and a plethora of harmful temptations.

But for parents whose innocent and impressionable children regularly surf the web, the Internet isn’t something to poke fun at. Instead it’s a serious reality, as the frequency of online sexual predation and identity theft skyrockets.

On Wednesday night at the North Kitsap auditorium, Seattle Police Department Detective Garry Jackson spoke to North Kitsap School District parents about the dangers children face online and the many ways parents can protect their children.

Open parent-child communication was the crux of Jackson’s safety message.

“I can’t stress enough the importance of talking to your students and being a part of what they do online,” he told the 14 parents who attended the session. “The goal is to try and keep your cool as much as possible because the last thing you want to do is create a situation where your child doesn’t want to talk to you.”

Although Jackson doesn’t know of any specific cases of a child’s Internet adventures gone wrong in Kitsap County, he said the dangers are everywhere. Sexual predators are willing to travel, he said, and it’s very easy for them to find phone numbers, addresses and school locations online.

He said students, without thinking about the dangers, will post too much information about themselves in chat rooms, which is why parents must be present and talk to their children.

To bring his point home he showed a video that demonstrated how easily an online predator can find pertinent information about an unsuspecting child by visiting a chat room.

Within two minutes the predator had learned the name, sex and e-mail address of a young girl. Six minutes later the predator knew the girl’s interests, her younger brother’s name, her mom’s name, and a home telephone number. After another 12 minutes of searching the predator knew the teens full name, her address and directions to her home and all the schools close to where she lived.

But the most alarming thing Jackson shared wasn’t how easy it is to find names, numbers and locations, but how clueless the posting students are about the information they put on the Net.

Once Jackson was visiting a class of approximately 240 sixth-graders. He asked them, “is it illegal for someone to take information off the Internet and find you?”

The answer is no, but 70 percent of the students believed it was illegal to track them down.

MySpace pages are also hot beds for finding information. A person must be 14 years old to have a MySpace page, but most kids lie about their ages to belong to the monstrous online social networking service.

And kids uninhibitedly post pictures, names, numbers, interests and locations on their MySpace pages.

“Encourage your children to think about the information they’re putting out, help them make the page, have them build one for you,” Jackson said. “They shouldn’t post anything that they don’t want everybody knowing because that’s a public place and that’s a hard concept for kids to grasp.”

Jackson continued with another alarming tidbit of information. He said a lot of online sexual predator cases that reach the police notification level involve children who are actually talking to adults about sex.

“We find children are engaging in this conduct,” he said.

And most negative online occurrences are never reported, as 39 percent of males who had uncomfortable online experiences didn’t tell anyone.

But it’s not just the children who are elusive when it comes to online happenings — predators are also very secretive.

“For every child we know they’re talking to, they’re probably talking to a dozen more,” Jackson said. “These guys are professionals. They know what they’re doing. If they’re talking to your children they’re getting information. Your kids are capable of anything and we cannot afford to think, ‘My child wouldn’t do that.’ ”

The parents who attended the meeting listened intently the entire 90 minutes. Most had heard the information before, but a refresher course is always helpful.

“A lot of it I knew, but it reinforces things,” said Mary Snook, the parent of three children ages 10, 13 and 15. “My kids all love to be on the computer and we do have rules and limits, but they’re always pushing. I’m going to go home and do a few things.”

Snook will be talking to all her children about the Internet, in greater detail.

While Jackson’s message was one of pending danger and prevention, he also let it be known the Internet doesn’t have to be a scary place.

“Don’t be afraid of it, the Internet can be a really awesome place, especially for kids” Jackson said. “Just you being here is an indicator you’ve got some control in your child’s life.”

To report incidents of online predation or a Web site that exploits children call the cyber tip line at (800) 843-5678 or visit www.cybertipline.com.

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