Program shortens learning curve: Parents, more might be happening online at your house than you think
(Buffalo News, The (NY) (KRT) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) May 11--Mothers and fathers, do you know where your children are?
For most good parents the answers is an indignant yes, but if your children are on the Internet, do you really know where they are?
A new program called I-Shield is being offered by the Niagara County Sheriff's Office is designed to address that question, with safety information available for both parents and students.
"No one can justify why a child has the Internet in their bedroom with the door closed," said Sheriff's Capt. Steven Preisch, who leads the new program. "Your computer should be in the family room, and you should have some idea what your children are doing online."
This is one of the basic recommendations stressed in I-Shield, a task force that teams up the Sheriff's Office with officers from Lockport, North Tonawanda, Niagara Falls and Lewiston. The mission is to educate and empower students, parents and others about the hazards that children can face on the Internet.
"Technology moves so fast and the laws move slower," Preisch said. "This won't save everyone, but it will prepare our children for Internet encounters."
He said the group will use materials and video from I-Safe, a national program created by a nonprofit, government- funded Internet safety foundation. The foundation, started in 1998, educates parents and children about social networking, Web sites, online bullies, identity theft and Internet piracy, as well as how to fight back against cyber predators who prey on children online.
I-Safe surveys of New York State students in grades five to eight has found that:
--39 percent report they have registered at a social networking site, such as MySpace.com.
--38 percent report they would classify someone that they know only from Internet and "talk" to frequently online as a "very good friend" or "good friend."
--14 percent report they have met someone from the Internet in person.
--20 percent report that people on the Internet have said mean or hurtful things about them or others online.
--12 percent report they have been pursued or stalked by another person against their wishes on the Internet.
--10 percent report they tell their parents "nothing or almost nothing" about their Internet friends.
In the United States, 50 million children ages 5 to 17 regularly use the Internet. According to I-Safe parent and student surveys, 91 percent of parents say they have established Internet activity rules, while only 33 percent of the students say they have Internet safety rules.
"We want to avoid victimization through education," said Preisch.
Preisch and Sheriff's Chief Deputy James Voutour, the I-Shield chairman, told The Buffalo News that they are like most parents who had very little computer experience while they were in high school. For grandparents, there is even less experience.
"But our children don't know a life without the Internet," Voutour said, "and things are progressing very quickly."
Preisch said that as law enforcement officers they also face a lot of challenges, such as air cards, which plug in like a cell phone and can access the Internet anywhere.
Technology like this can easily be used by an Internet predator, he said.
"Law enforcement needs to keep up, or we will be left behind. We hear about tragic predatorial stories," Preisch said.
He said I-Shield members hope that by offering extra training and workshops on Internet safety, the program will be a tool for DARE officers, teachers, parents and grandparents, as well as students, who will receive positive interaction with police.
"These classes won't make anyone a computer whiz but will try to educate parents and children," said Preisch.
He said officers are starting the program for sixth-grade children, who may just be starting to become more active on the Internet.
Said Voutour, "We teach our children about the real environment all the time -- look both ways before you cross the street, don't talk to strangers -- but we also want to teach them some precautions about the Internet, which can be dangerous or even more dangerous."
"It's like learning to drive," said Preisch. "You don't just give a child a computer. They need training. All we are doing is teaching right from wrong."
In I-Safe training provided to officers in the county I-Shield program, they do talk about online bullying, something that has received much attention recently, but also some lesser-known dangers and concerns:
--Children using a parent's credit card online can open their parents up to identity theft. Training teaches participants to look to well-known sites and sites that carry a padlock in the corner.
--Spam e-mail can be made to look like a real inquiry, and people are warned not to open unknown attachments or send private information.
--Downloading data can accidentally unload spyware, and downloading copyrighted material is stealing.
Niagara Falls Detective Dan Jones, who works as a juvenile officer, said he will teach the I-Safe program to Niagara Falls students and parents.
"I'm in the schools a lot, and there is concern about Internet safety," Jones said. "Parents want to know how to protect their children. [I-Safe] is another tool in the tool box, and we will offer it to whoever wants it. We want to reach out to parents so that they have the ultimate control."
Lewiston Officer John Penzotti said his department already has been offering Internet safety tips and will use the newly available program to reach out to parents and community groups.
"Some people are surprised by the information they receive," Penzotti said. "I absolutely tell them that their computer must be in the living room. In my home, there is no expectation of privacy. I tell my children that anything they have on the Internet should be something myself or even their grandmother can see."
Penzotti said officers also reach out to older students at Lewiston-Porter and said a mentor program with teens and younger students -- which is suggested by I-Safe -- is something the school and police would be interested in.
The Sheriff's Office and local police agencies will be reaching out to local community groups and schools to offer programs and information in the fall. To find out more about the I-Safe program, go online to isafe.org. To find out more about the I-Shield program, call Preisch at 438-3378 or Deputy Roger Haseley at 438-3310.
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