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Social networking causes new set of problems for parents
[November 06, 2010]

Social networking causes new set of problems for parents

Nov 05, 2010 (The Daily Courier - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Connellsville Area High School principal Nick Bosnic calls inappropriate use of the Internet and texting "such a big problem in our schools. Five times or more a year, someone sends something. They can't take it back. There's a great deal of harassment and bullying that goes on Facebook and My Space." Bosnic acknowledges that students have grown up with technology and, as an incentive for improving their performance on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests, high school officials allow students to use their cell phones for calls and text messaging "on the patio before school and outside at lunchtime." However, many students are so proficient at texting, "they can do it in their pocket during class," Bosnic said.

Bosnic and school security director Michael Parfitt invited Mike Mullins of Connellsville, an Army veteran and member of the National Guard's Education Liaison Program, to tell parents about the dangers of texting, instant messaging and Internet use and how to keep their children safe.

Bosnic told Mullins, "If a fight breaks out here, within minutes it can be seen on the Internet." No parents attended this week's meeting.

"The good of the Internet does outweigh the bad," Mullins said, "but use safeguards." His presentation came from "A Parent's Guide to the Internet" by the New York Division of Criminal Justice.

Internet risks include online enticement from predators who gain a child's trust and establish rapport. Some children have been kidnapped, raped and even murdered by predators they met online. Due to the Internet's worldwide reach, "Distance is no buffer for danger," Mullins said.

Chat rooms involve real time conversations online that are open to all. "They are cruising grounds to predators. If a stranger was talking to your child in your front yard, what would you do? How about in a chat room?" he asked.

Mullins cautioned against revealing too much personal information online, a caveat for all ages of Internet users.

Instant messaging is safer than chat rooms, because users establish a friends list, but Mullins said social media sites like Facebook, which allows users to connect to friends and strangers with similar interests, can be risky. "When you become friends with someone, their friends become your friends automatically." Cyber bullying continues to increase, and several children have killed themselves after being targeted online. "No one is immune," he said.

Signs a child is being targeted by a cyber bully include poor self esteem, not wanting to go to school or participate in other activities and losing interest in what the child previously enjoyed.

"Dealing with cyber bullying involves preserving evidence and attempting to elicit assistance from your Internet service provider," Mullins said.

The Internet also allows users to access pornography, including child porn.

Parental involvement is key in keeping children safe online.

"Activate parental controls on all computers, learn everything you can about technology. Communicate with your children. Know your child's passwords and accounts, install computer management software and periodically review the computer's usage history," Mullins said.

In addition to computers, he recommended installing parental controls on cell phones and online gaming platforms. Parents can limit language and word searches.

"It all boils down to parental involvement," he said. "Start early enough with your children. It's like preventive maintenance." He summarized the way children can keep themselves safe while accessing the vast amount of information online with four R words. "Recognize the techniques predators use to gain trust. Refuse requests for personal information. Respond if you feel uncomfortable. Exit the program and turn off the computer. Finally, report fears to a parent to a parent or a trusted adult." Predators can be found where they can easily encounter children. "To the places you might find sexual predators -- playgrounds, parks and schools -- add the Internet," Mullins said. "Parents have to interact with their kids. They have to be proactive with what they allow their kids to do. It all starts at home." Judy Kroeger can be reached at [email protected] or 724-626-3538.

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