School viewing of news report raises questions on Internet safety education

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(Host) The principal of Wallingford Elementary school came under fire recently when fifth graders there were shown a TV news report on sexual predators who use the Internet to stalk children.

While some parents felt it was a valuable safety lesson, others argued that the material was inappropriate.

The debate raises important questions about how and when to educate children about Internet safety.

VPR’s Nina Keck has more:

(Keck) Lt. Mark Lauer heads up the computer crime unit for the state police. He says parents should begin talking to their kids about Internet safety as soon as they begin using the computer. He says when he makes presentations at schools, he often finds it helpful to talk to kids and parents together. He says cyber bullying and cyber stalking often go unreported because many kids are too ashamed to tell anyone.

(Lauer) “One of the things that’s going on is one individual may be posting negative information about another individual in chat rooms or forums that contains negative information about the victim in these cases. Not only do they post this information, but they also direct other people to it.”

(Keck) This can be incredibly traumatizing for the victim, yet often parents and teachers have no idea it’s going on. That’s why Lt. Lauer says it’s important to for parents to be proactive. Know what your kids are doing on-line. Talk to them about it and make sure their computer is in a public place. And most importantly, Lauer says, let them know that if they get into a situation that makes them uncomfortable – to tell you or some other trusted adult.

(Lauer) “And remind them that even though they think – the children – think they’re communicating with their best friend or their group of friends – anything they post on line is literally out there for the world to see. And the day that they take it off line, does not mean that it is really gone. It is still out there for people to do anything they want with and it can reappear any time, anywhere.”

(Keck) Lauer says kids should never give out any personal information – like their age, gender or the school they go to. This also goes for screen names – avoid ones like David12 or Kristy13

(Lauer) “Because remember, the bad people who want to use this are looking for that information so that they can actually use it against you later on when they’re trying to become your friend or ally.”

(Keck) And because chat rooms have become so widely used, Lauer recommends parents take a few minutes to check them out. Start with or Facebook. They’re two of the most popular sites.

But Lauer warns you might be disturbed by what you find.

(Lauer) “Go into Yahoo and go into any chat room and make yourself Betty 12. And you will find out that within minutes people will be asking you – Are you male or female? Are you home alone? And that will actually escalate into – Can you take pictures of yourself and send them to me?”

(Keck) For kids to protect themselves, Lauer says it’s critical that they know what’s out there and how to avoid it.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Nina Keck.

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