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FAMILY   -   FAMILY FEATURES
Keeping Kids Safe Online
January, 2007 - Issue #27
Teenagers today are plugged in and ready to communicate like no other generation before them via e-mail and cell phones. The popularity of internet sites, such as MySpace.com, has launched a new world that has parents shaking their heads and wondering just how much multi-tasking a kid can do.

Ever watch a teen text message a friend? Have you ever seen fingers move so fast? Technology has advanced at a rapid pace and the internet is a wonderful tool, but there are potential dangers facing young adults whenever they are online.

Chat rooms and social networking spaces enable people of all ages to meet others world wide. The problems arise when the anonymous line is crossed and personal information and photographs are posted that are accessible to anyone logging on. More than 72 percent of today's teens are crossing that line. And just as sites are easily accessed by teens, they are easily accessed by child predators.

Donna Rice Hughes, president of Enough is Enough, a national nonprofit organization that's mission is to make the internet safer for children and families, recently addressed more than 300 Santa Clarita residents in a city-sponsored event. Hughes said social networking sites are a predator's dream come true. She encouraged parents to sit down with their children and explain internet safety measures.

One third of young internet users are exposed to unwanted sexual material and a recent poll by the Girl Scout Research Institute found 30 percent of teenage girls said they had been sexually harassed in a chat room. Only 7 percent told their parents about it because they were worried that they would be banned from going online.

"There is NO GOOD REASON to be in a chat room. Unlike social networking, everything in a chat room happens really fast. Even online human monitors cannot detect PREDATORS that may be online," Donna Rice Hughes, president of Enough is Enough
Hughes said that while the founders of MySpace.com have been actively working on safety measures, young adults should avoid online chat rooms.

"There is no good reason to be in a chat room," Hughes said. "Unlike social networking, everything in a chat room happens really fast. Even online human monitors cannot detect predators that may be online."

Enough is Enough has a list of internet safety rules and software tools to protect children online. Obvious rules such as teaching your children to never give personal information over the internet and paying attention to the type of photographs your child is posting, to keeping the family computer in an open area of the house and knowing your child's passwords, screen names and buddy lists.

"When you put something on the Internet, there are no take backs," Hughes cautioned.

Hughes demonstrated how quickly a seemingly innocent conversation in a chat room could lead to enough personal information being disseminated to allow a sexual predator to harm a child. From asking where the computer is located (in the bedroom or in the family room) to text messaging shorthand (PIR - parent in room. TDTM - talk dirty to me), a predator, posing as a teen, can quickly gain a teen's trust (LMIRL - let's meet in real life). By simply asking the name of the teen's high school or where they like to hang out, a predator can quickly locate a hometown along with an address and phone numbers. This personal information is easily accessed on the internet. One only has to watch the television show Dateline series "To Catch a Predator" to see what happens next.

A parent can monitor where their children are going online by installing software that will give them the ability to view internet activity. Hughes also recommends parents restrict access by using privacy tools and deleting peer-to-peer file sharing programs which can serve as gateways for children to access illegal pornography.

Get educated about the internet and keep your children safe from online predators.

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For more information on rules and tools, log onto www.enough.org or www.protectkids.com. For other safety tips and tools, you can contact Tess Simgen at the City of Santa Clarita Blue Ribbon Task Force at 661-255-4965.
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