Alexander Horn and Lucy Santana, ages 7 and 8, respectively, are students at the Dual Immersion Academy (DIA) in Salt Lake City. This week they were made aware of the dangers they could face if they do not follow the strict instructions they received at school: “do not talk to strangers on the Internet while navigating the Web.”
With fun characters like Netty and Webster, students at DIA were taught — in age-appropriate language — the risks they face when they interact with enemies like Numbut, Dogle, Hot-head, Follow Your Fiona and Spamozoid.
Each character, with their specific features, were easily identified by the students. Through vey specific examples, they showed the kids that they should not share personal information that reveals their age, where they live, the name of family members, or photos.
"We should not open any window that says, for example, open here to win a million dollars,´ because most of them will require our personal information and we should not give it!" said Alexander.
Meanwhile, Tommy Dardon and Karla Moreno, both 8 years old, said they have Internet access at home, but from now on, they will be more careful because they should not trust anyone they do not know. If they ever feel harassed by a stranger, they should immediately contact their parents or an adult close to them.
The Internet today is an integral part of the environment in which all children operate. The vast majority of them have access to the Internet either at home or at school.
According to Consumer Reports.org., of the 20 million minors who actively used Facebook in the past year, 7.5 million, or one third, were under 13 years of age and are not supposed to have access to the site.
Among young users, more than 5 million were 10 and under, and their accounts were largely unsupervised by their parents.
Social networks make it easy for children to connect with their friends and with others who have similar interests. Children socialize and express their concerns in their posts, comments and photos.
A survey of young people ages 10 to 17 showed that 34 percent have put their own name, their phone number, address or name of school in their social pages that can be opened by anyone. Forty-five percent revealed their date of birth and 18 percent included their own photo.
Parents and teachers believe that the Internet is primarily an educational tool. However, Kids.net shows that children are using the Internet as a fun way to play, send messages and chat. Only two-thirds of children think that helps their learning and one-third say they would use it at home to get ahead in their school assignments if they get sick.
Facts show that more than 90 percent of 2-year-olds in the United States have a history on the Internet. At 5 years, the vast majority interact with a computer or tablet device. And between 7 and 8 years, they regularly play video games online. All these activities carry a constant danger of child predators.
Representatives of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), with the help of the Boys & Girls Club and sponsored by Comcast, are visiting elementary schools in the Salt Lake Valley to show students the imminent dangers they face when they give their personal information or chat to strangers.
Through the program NetSmartz.org, students and parents learn to make wise decisions when faced with the reality of the world of social networking and the Internet.
Renata Allred, a parent who participated in a workshop at the Boys & Girls Club, said that although she was always aware of the activities of their kids when they are navigating the Internet, she never imagined that if they were playing online that they were totally exposed to predators.
"It's something I had not considered, and through this program I opened my eyes to such imminent danger when my children play online," she said.
Ray Child, director of public relations for Comcast, said that this program is part of the education of the use of the Internet that they announced when they launched the Internet Essentials program, which provides access to low-income families. The program offers qualifying homes with Internet access for $ 9.99 per month and a notebook for about $150.
"This is a commitment we have for the disadvantaged community, to educate both students and parents about the dangers of the Internet and the importance of not communicating with strangers nor revealing personal information," Child said.
For fun activities to help parents and children, as well as adolescents, learn about the proper use of the Internet and the social media, visit www.netsmartz.org.
Helpful tips for parents
- Be cautious. Make sure your children know their friends when they are establishing their networking. Just because someone claims to play their same sports or listen to the same music, they are virtual and faceless and you can’t trust that they are what they say they are.
- Go the extra mile. Knowing that the potential exposure to danger exists, keep an eye on your kids' profiles and be diligent about who they share their profiles with. For photo sharing sites like Flickr, check out the users who are marking their pictures as their favorites. If a stranger is marking all the pictures of your 7-year-old child as their favorite, it may be a cause for concern.
- Report. If you think there is a reason to believe that an individual is a sexual predator, report it.
- Educate. Parents who have children that surf the Web and frequent social networking sites should communicate openly. Educate your kids about how to use the Web safely. Make sure they understand the risks and that they can talk with you about suspicious or malicious activity they encounter.
- Monitor. Install monitoring software to watch your kids' online behavior. In that way, you can monitor and record all activity on a given computer and keep an eye on your children.
- Do whatever is necessary to keep your kids safe.