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.

More in News

File photo
$30 car tab proposal returns to ballot in November

Tim Eyman-led initiative would restrict car tabs and transportation benefit districts in Washington.

File photo
King County alcohol production ordinance could be approved by year’s end

Update to county code has been more than a year in the making.

Bring Fido and a can of food to support local animal shelters

“You Lucky Dog!” is more than an expression, it’s an event in… Continue reading

Renton Schools Foundation to host gala

To celebrate 10 years and welcome a new executive director, the Renton… Continue reading

Carol Ann Witschi
Witschi’s seat to stay vacant till election

Renton City Council has decided to leave councilmember Carol Ann Witschi’s seat… Continue reading

Photo by Haley Ausbun. Faith-Maria, a third grader at St. Anthony Elementary School in Renton, asked Make-a-Wish to share her wish with her school, which resulted in two new smart boards. Faith-Maria with her family at the unveiling, Sept. 12.
A selfless wish for Renton schools

Faith-Maria Nguyen uses Make-A-Wish to provide school a smart board

Photo by Haley Ausbun. RESP union members attended the Sept. 11 Renton School Board meeting to make their story heard as they continue to negotiate for a new contract with the district.
Union leader: ‘Give us what we deserve’

Update: Paraprofessionals and staff have reached a tentative agreement with the Renton School District

Photo by Haley Ausbun. Photo left to right: David Rodriguez, Tony Ventrella, Rachel Chronister, Marla Veliz, Reagan Dunn, and Gavin Hunt at the Sept. 10 ribbon cutting for the New Horizon School van, gifted by King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn through the retired van program.
County van to increase New Horizon’s inclusivity

A vehicle gifted to a school for students with learning disabilities will support outreach

Photo by Haley Ausbun. Tiffany Park Elementary School teachers and parents hold up signs before the Sept. 11 Renton School Board meeting, over the loss of a fourth grade classroom that reorganized the fourth and fifth graders at the school.
Teacher changes shake up parents’ confidence in Renton schools

A quick staffing change and classroom switch has parents questioning Renton School District

Most Read