No such thing as ‘safe surfing’ for kids online No such thing as ‘safe surfing’ for kids online

Most children have heard their parents say “Don’t talk to strangers” a thousand times over. If an unknown adult approached them on the street, they’d know what to do: get away, and quick.

  • Saturday, March 29, 2008 12:00am
  • News

Most children have heard their parents say “Don’t talk to strangers” a thousand times over. If an unknown adult approached them on the street, they’d know what to do: get away, and quick.

However, that drilled-in caution often disappears, when children enter the virtual world.

At an Internet safety seminar, titled “Safe Surfing: Protecting Your Kids Online,” the speakers repeatedly emphasized the fact that an online “friend” is still a stranger.

The seminar, planned by Youth Eastside Services, drew approximately 50 parents in Bellevue. It was the first of three free Microsoft Lifeline Community Speakers seminars YES plans to hold in 2008.

“My definition for my children is: a friend is someone you know in the real world,” said Seattle Police Detective Malinda Wilson, who works on the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.

Wilson gave several examples of cases in which children thought they knew who an online acquaintance was, only to find out — too late — that they were wrong.

In one of the least devastating cases, Wilson was called in to track down the online “friend” of a 12-year-old boy, who had sent inappropriate pictures via e-mail. The boy insisted his Internet friend, whom he’d chatted with for three years, was a 15-year-old boy. When Wilson finally tracked down the “friend,” it turned out the supposed teenage boy was not a boy at all, but a 13-year-old girl.

Which just emphasizes the point: You never know who you’re really talking to online.

Debbi Halela, of Youth Eastside Services, shared the more harrowing story of a 15-year-old girl — one of her counseling clients — who flew out to meet an online friend, and walked off the plane into the clutches of a 31-year-old sexual predator. It took a month for authorities to find and rescue the girl, Halela said.

Aside from the obvious danger of trusting a stranger posing as a friend online, children also face a more subtle danger from predators who use the Internet to find personal information and track down potential victims without ever making contact with them.

MySpace and Facebook pages can aid such searches, especially if they aren’t password protected.

For Baby Boomers uncomfortable around the ever-changing newfangled technology, Halela urged them to get their children to teach them. That’s the approach she said she has taken with her own teenage daughter.

Halela also warned that simply denying Internet access at home is no guarantor of the child’s online safety — not when computers are readily available at friends’ homes, at the library and even on some cell phones.

“It’s easy to throw up your hands, but it’s important not to,” she said. “Having communication (with your children), and having trust — there’s no replacement for that.”

The final speaker for the evening was Kevin McCall, technical manager for Microsoft, who discussed the tech side of Internet safety.

McCall recommended that parents install and use several lines of electronic defense on their computers, including: antivirus software to prevent operating system problems; anti-spyware to guard against personal information being stolen; and firewalls to filter out inappropriate sites.

Most children have heard their parents say “Don’t talk to strangers” a thousand times over. If an unknown adult approached them on the street, they’d know what to do: get away, and quick.

However, that drilled-in caution often disappears, when children enter the virtual world.

At an Internet safety seminar, titled “Safe Surfing: Protecting Your Kids Online,” the speakers repeatedly emphasized the fact that an online “friend” is still a stranger.

The seminar, planned by Youth Eastside Services, drew approximately 50 parents in Bellevue. It was the first of three free Microsoft Lifeline Community Speakers seminars YES plans to hold in 2008.

“My definition for my children is: a friend is someone you know in the real world,” said Seattle Police Detective Malinda Wilson, who works on the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.

Wilson gave several examples of cases in which children thought they knew who an online acquaintance was, only to find out — too late — that they were wrong.

In one of the least devastating cases, Wilson was called in to track down the online “friend” of a 12-year-old boy, who had sent inappropriate pictures via e-mail. The boy insisted his Internet friend, whom he’d chatted with for three years, was a 15-year-old boy. When Wilson finally tracked down the “friend,” it turned out the supposed teenage boy was not a boy at all, but a 13-year-old girl.

Which just emphasizes the point: You never know who you’re really talking to online.

Debbi Halela, of Youth Eastside Services, shared the more harrowing story of a 15-year-old girl — one of her counseling clients — who flew out to meet an online friend, and walked off the plane into the clutches of a 31-year-old sexual predator. It took a month for authorities to find and rescue the girl, Halela said.

Aside from the obvious danger of trusting a stranger posing as a friend online, children also face a more subtle danger from predators who use the Internet to find personal information and track down potential victims without ever making contact with them.

MySpace and Facebook pages can aid such searches, especially if they aren’t password protected.

For Baby Boomers uncomfortable around the ever-changing newfangled technology, Halela urged them to get their children to teach them. That’s the approach she said she has taken with her own teenage daughter.

Halela also warned that simply denying Internet access at home is no guarantor of the child’s online safety — not when computers are readily available at friends’ homes, at the library and even on some cell phones.

“It’s easy to throw up your hands, but it’s important not to,” she said. “Having communication (with your children), and having trust — there’s no replacement for that.”

The final speaker for the evening was Kevin McCall, technical manager for Microsoft, who discussed the tech side of Internet safety.

McCall recommended that parents install and use several lines of electronic defense on their computers, including: antivirus software to prevent operating system problems; anti-spyware to guard against personal information being stolen; and firewalls to filter out inappropriate sites.

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