Keep online with kids about Internet dangers

Saturday, April 28, 2007

You wouldn't drop your child off unsupervised in the downtown of large metropolitan area.

Why then do so many allow their children to face just as many hazards, by allowing them to "surf" unsupervised on the Internet?

Certainly not any responsible parent who heard what two experts had to say at a recent Internet safety session at the McCook Public Library.

And, certainly not anyone who has watched a repeated series of new specials where online predators are caught attempting to "meet" underage children they have contacted online at homes where they believe no other adult is present.

That news program has had no trouble luring dozens of online predators into its trap -- some of them more than once -- but lest we think the Golden Plains is immune, think again.

Human nature is the same where ever one goes, and high-speed Internet carries the same capabilities for good and evil where ever it is available as well.

And, as the experts pointed out, nearly 90 percent of victims travel less than 50 miles to meet a predator.

Perhaps the most sobering realization for parents who attended the session is how different a young child's world is today from the one in which we grew up. Internet, instant messaging, cellular phones and text messaging have expanded their world exponentially, far beyond the tiny sheltered groups of acquaintances most of us knew as teenagers.

And, while it's tempting to pull the plug on online access altogether, the Internet is becoming more and more an integral part of communications in general and education in particular. If not at home, children will have access at school, a friend's house or the public library.

The authorities for the recent workshop, Susan Howell of the consumer safety division of the Nebraska Attorney General's office, and Craigg O'Brien of the Omaha FBI's office, had a number of usefuly safety tips, including posting written rules near the computer, which should be in a public place, don't let kids use a Web cam to post their picture on the net, keep track of the history to see where your child has been, and use filtering software.

But perhaps the most important tip was to keep the lines of commmunication open with your kids, and don't overreact if they tell you about a potentially dangerous situation.

That's good advice, whether your child is on the Internet or not.

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