With a bit of personal information and a few mouse clicks, Internet predators can cross the Web and enter cyberspace inhabited by adolescents and prey on unsuspecting children.
School bullies are also using the computer, aiming computer-generated messages of intimidation at classroom victims.
Putting a stop to crimes committed via the home computer, including topics such as Web-based hazing and sexual predation, will be addressed during an Internet Safety Workshop from 9 a.m. to noon Nov. 10 in the West Jefferson Middle School/High School auditeria. The ICAN (Internet Crime Awareness Now) presentation is a pilot project sponsored by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.
Parents, grandparents, and community members are encouraged to attend the workshop to learn about Internet safety and tips on how to keep their children safe from harm via their home computer.
“Our IT (Information Technology) guru, Kurt Dennis, and I went to an Internet safety presentation put on by the Attorney General’s office and said we need to do something like this out here,” said middle school Principal Debbie Omen. “It is a problem because our kids are so trusting. They think if they don’t use their name, they’re safe—and they’re not.
“All a predator needs is just a little key information, something as simple as a comment about a mascot, and they’re able to track down a victim. We’re in the business of education, and what better place to have a workshop like this than the school? This is a pilot program and, based on how it goes here, they’ll move it on to other counties.”
High School Principal Dave Metz said the session is an educational tool for parents and teachers and is open to everyone. He said a goal of the program is to illustrate how easy it is to track a child over the Internet and said representatives of the Westerville Police Department will set up a live demonstration on Nov. 10.
“Our concern is that kids are getting on MySpace,” said Metz, “and there’s a lot of Internet bullying, which they then bring onto the campus. We’ve had those situations in the past in both buildings, but it’s more prevalent in the middle school.
“We have our own controls and lock out certain Web sites, but if they do something like use an obscene word on a school computer, it’s flagged immediately and they’re in my office within five minutes.”
Vickie Germann, a life-long West Jefferson resident and 1975 Jefferson Local high school graduate, works in the Missing Children’s Clearinghouse division of the Attorney General’s office and suggested the district be considered for the pilot project.
“We did some Internet safety training in big towns and we’re trying to hit the more rural areas,” said Germann. “I’ve lived in West Jefferson all my life, so it seemed like a comfortable choice. We’re keeping the length of the workshop to only three hours. We want to get parents interested in attending the workshop and hope this will really take off in other counties.
“Parents often don’t really know what their kids are doing online. Westerville police will be doing a live chat to show what happens online. A BCI (Bureau of Criminal Investigations) representative will be talking about how parents can find out what their children are doing and how to prevent things from happening to their children. And (there will be) other presentations, including information people can take home.”
The Ohio Attorney General’s Office offers the following tips for Internet safety for children:
• Talk to your child about the potential hazards of the Internet and get to know their online friends as you would their regular friends.
• Set up an agreement with your child about computer use.
• Share an e-mail account with your child so you can monitor messages. If your child received mail from a stranger, would you ask who they are? Treat the Internet the same way.
• Use parental controls and/or blocking software and forbid your child from entering private chat rooms, but don’t rely solely on software to block/filter content.
• Never respond to a threatening e-mail or message.
Warning signs your child may be a victim:
• Your child spends long hours online, especially at night.
• Phone calls from people you don’t know.
• Unsolicited gifts arriving in the mail.
• Child suddenly turns off the computer when you walk into the room.
• Withdrawal from family life.
• Reluctance to discuss online activities.
For more information on Internet safety, call the Attorney General’s office at 1-877-244-6446.