March 5, 2007

Internet dangers to youth presented at forum

One in every five youth who use the Internet receive an online sex approach or solicitation during a one-year period

By Jennifer Gallus
Staff Writer

Parents and educators were given a wake-up call about the dangers that kids face while engaging in online activity – in particular, on myspace.com.

Wright County Juvenile Probation Officer Neal Huemoeller and Wright County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Jeff Fox accepted an invitation from the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted Methamphetamine Education and Drug Awareness (MEADA) chapter and HLWW Community Education to present their popular discussion that every parent should know.

“One in 17 youth on the Internet have felt threatened or harassed, one in four have experienced unwanted exposure to inappropriate pictures or materials, and one in five youth who use the Internet receive an online sex approach or solicitation during a one-year period,” Huemoeller said.

In addition, 43 percent of youth who use myspace.com say they have been bullied online and 58 percent say that they have said mean or hurtful things about others online, according to Huemoeller.

Myspace is the number one most used web site and acquires 180,000 new members a day.

Anyone can search for your child’s profile by logging on to the web site and entering any of the following in the ‘search’ field: their name, e-mail address, zip code, or friends.

While this is helpful to a parent wishing to check up on the child, it is also available to predators.

Sexual ads are also becoming more prevalent on these social networking sites, which is something parents also need to be aware of.

Learn online acronyms

One acronym parents need to recognize is POS. This is used when a child is chatting away online and the parent steps in and looks over the child’s shoulder at what the child is typing.

The child will often switch gears and write POS, which means Parents are looking Over my Shoulder, and the other conversation can take place again after the parent is not looking.

Internet safety

The following tips were provided in a brochure that was distributed at the discussion.

• Find out if the child has a page on one of these social networking sites such as myspace, Friendster, Bebo, or Xanga. If they aren’t honest with you, you can search for their profile using their e-mail address or school.

Go to either the browse or search icon on the web site and fill in information to search for their profiles. Also, look for their friend’s profiles, as they could have the child’s profile on their web site.

• If the child does have a profile on one of the web sites, you need to ask them why they created the profile. If they were looking for romantic interests or to use in a deceptive manner like cyber bullying, then you could have reason to be alarmed.

• Look at where your computer is located within the house. If the computer is located in the child’s bedroom, you are strongly encouraged to relocate it to a high traffic area such as your living room for better and closer supervision.

What to look for once you’re on the child’s profile page

More tips listed in the brochure included the following.

• Once on their profile, look at all the pictures they have posted and approve only the appropriate ones. Make sure the pictures do not include other people, especially if it is someone who does not know they are on the profile. Also, look for any information that leads someone to know where you are, such as wearing a school sweatshirt or work uniform.

• Do not give out personal information. The child should never put their full name, home address, telephone number, family information, or physical characteristics.

Many of the social online networks have an optional survey which asks hundreds of questions. Do not allow them to have this survey posted on their profile. These surveys will give more than enough information to allow someone to groom your child into conversation.

• Look at all their blogs and comments to friends. Make sure these are being used appropriately. An example is when a friend might send a message to their profile saying, “I need to call you about something, what’s your number again?” The child will send a message to them with their phone number. The phone number will appear on their friend’s profile. Make sure to examine all postings carefully.

• Go through the child’s “friends” list. To be a friend on someone’s profile, you must be invited in. Specifically go through each friend making sure it is someone appropriate for them to talk with. When in doubt, make them erase this friend from the list.

Additional resources

Online sources are available for parents to seek help and advice about this topic, according to Fox.

Wiredkids.org and wiredsafety.org are widely used by parents as well as software such as softwar4parents.com, Fox noted.

Huemoeller and Fox travel the area frequently and will give their presentation to just about any group that would like to learn more.

E-mail Huemoeller at Neal.Huemoeller@co.wiright.mn.us or Fox at Jefff@stma.k12.mn.us for more information.

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