2010-05-22 / Top News

Online Safety Is Focus of Program

By Rebecca Jaskot

Students using the Internet without supervision risk predator abuse, and Nancy Burgeson, a representative from the office of the Michigan Attorney General, visited the Mackinac Island school to make sure parents and youth are aware of the dangers. Parents can and should check on their child's activity, she said, and parents should know their child's passwords.

Ms. Burgeson spoke to Mackinac Island students and parents Wednesday, May 12, about practicing online safety and opening lines of communication between adults and students.

Ms. Burgeson is one of 15 presenters from the state office who travel around the state to talk to schools. She said 89% of sex solicitations of youth are made through chat rooms or instant messaging. When youth give out personal information online, this makes it easier for predators to reach them. Among fifth through eighth graders, 55% have given out personal information online and 10% have met someone face-toface that they first met online.

She spoke to elementary students in the fall and high school students during school Wednesday. That evening, she held a community seminar to teach parents to monitor their child's online activity.

Ms. Burgeson taught the three “keeps” to adults:

1. Keep current. Look on the Internet and learn about new technology.

2. Keep communicating. Talk with your child about what sites he or she visits online.

3. Keep checking. Monitor your child's Internet use and check his or her history and online profiles.

Parents have a right to all of their child's usernames and passwords, Ms. Burgeson said.

“As a parent, don't let your child say 'It's personal.' Nothing on the Internet is private,” she said. “If they ask you why you want to look, tell them because you love them and want to keep them safe.”

She suggests parents ask their child to teach them about the Internet. Parents can then see which sites they visit.

Many parents do not realize the dangers of cyber space, she said.

“The Internet is not the problem, but we need to make sure students use it responsibly,” she said.

Along with the presentation, parents were given a handout with a questions and answers action plan, a list of common online acronyms, and a list of predator warning signs.

Tutorials are available on the attorney general's Web site to educate parents about online privacy, filters, and how to check history.

Ms. Burgeson also told parents what was included in the student presentations.

Students of all ages learned the three “keeps” for online safety:

1. Keep safe personal information. Students should not give out their real name, address, phone number, or a photograph.

2. Keep away from Internet strangers. Students should not chat online with anybody they do not know and should not meet them face-to-face.

3. Keep telling parents. Students should find a trusted adult they can talk to about anything that makes them uncomfortable.

The presentation taught students the tricks predators use to befriend minors.

Ms. Burgeson showed students how a person can type their phone number in an online search engine and find out where they live and get directions to their house. She said that if a predator wants to meet up with a student, they will find a way to get to even a remote area such as Mackinac Island.

She is surprised to see how many younger children are involved online.

At each presentation, she asks how many students have ever been on Facebook or MySpace and has seen students as young as the second grade raise their hands. She said that children should be at least 14 years old before opening an account on social networking sites.

Ms. Burgeson also discussed cell phone safety.

Students today can use their phones to “sext” or send sexually explicit messages or photographs to one another. If caught, students can be charged with distributing child pornography. This federal offense can lead to a student being added to the sex offenders list or serving jail time, which Ms. Burgeson said many students are surprised to hear.

“They need to really think before they send. Once they send something, they can't get it back,” she said.

Mackinac Island students received a contract to take home to sign with their parents. By signing, students promise to follow the rules and parents promise not to overreact when a child talks to them about negative activities online. The goal is to share information about safe practices.

The presentation was part of the Cyber Safety Initiative started four years ago by the Michigan Attorney General.

The program is free to Michigan public schools.

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