News

Kids surfing Net without a net?

Local forum reveals some parents’

naiveté of Internet.

There weren’t any audible gasps or visibly dropped jaws, but a recent video presentation at an Internet safety forum revealed a disturbing sequence of events.

In an Internet chat room, a little white cursor clicked away on a young teen’s screen name and user profile, compiling bits and pieces of information. After plugging some of the information into an Internet search engine, the little cursor had discovered the teen’s real name, that of her brother and parents, the location of her school and her home address.

The video was time-lapsed, but in reality it didn’t take that long for the information to be found.

In all, about 20 minutes.

The video was part of a presentation given recently by Seattle Police Detective Garry Jackson at Central Kitsap High School. Jackson has been heading up Seattle’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force since January.

It was disturbing, to be sure, but perhaps even more disturbing were the questions raised by parents.

One asked if it was illegal to distribute pornography on the Net.

Another followed up by asking if homosexual pornography was illegal.

Several questioned how social networking sites like MySpace work.

For the record, yes, porn is legal, so long as it doesn’t cross the line into child pornography. And for those who didn’t know, MySpace pages are a dime a dozen and there’s not much stopping kids from lying about their age to meet the 14-year-old minimum to join the site.

“I think parents don’t realize what their kids are doing,” said Leah Meadows, co-president of the Central Kitsap Junior High School PTSA group that brought Jackson in for the presentation.

Likewise, many kids often don’t realize what “friends” they meet on the Net are doing, what their intentions are or who they really are.

“If our kids can lie online to get something they want (like a MySpace page) ... what are the chances someone else is lying to them?” Jackson said.

Patrolling the Net in Kitsap County

The Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office doesn’t distinguish between offenses committed online, over the phone or in person for the crime of communicating with a minor for immoral purposes. Since 2000, however, there have been 106 complaints pertaining to that offense within the Kitsap Sheriff’s jurisdiction — not counting local jurisdictions, like Bremerton or Bainbridge Island.

While there aren’t any official numbers to argue the severity of Internet crimes against children in the county, the sheriff’s office receives complaints “at least once a week,” said Deputy Scott Wilson, spokesman for the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office.

“It’s definitely a concern,” he said. “You’ll get a lot of people out there passing themselves off as the age and gender of their victims when in fact they’re a sexual predator.”

To combat the situation, the sheriff’s office has employed detectives specifically to investigate Internet crimes and has gone outside the agency for help with offenders. The sheriff’s office also hosts periodic talks at local schools to inform students, teachers and parents on the potential dangers of surfing the Web.

Keeping an ‘i’ on student surfing

The Central Kitsap School District also has thrown its hat into the Internet safety education ring by offering education through a non-profit organization called i-SAFE.

Adopted about three years ago, i-SAFE’s curriculum is provided free of charge through the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

“We thought that it did a pretty good job of explaining the Internet as a cyber community,” CKSD Coordinator of Instructional Technology David Guertin said.

The curriculum consists of a series of online videos that purport to train educators in Internet safety and pass that information along to students.

“Our expectation is that it’s being used at all the schools,” Guertin said. “So I guess I could say it’s required, yes.”

The district also employs Internet filters to block access to sites that feature “objectionable content,” such as pornography, hate speech, weapons making and more.

Curriculum

not enough?

The curriculum is a step up from what the district formerly provided, which was to say, next to nothing, but it may still be leaving a bit to be desired.

“I think we have a definite lack on that part,” Meadows said of Internet safety education. “I know they (CKSD) have a problem with it. Some cyber-bullying has gone on at the junior high (CKJH).”

Guertin wouldn’t go so far as to criticize the material or his department, but he did admit that more education would be better.

“I think we’re always looking for opportunities, but with so much on our plates (it’s hard to do),” he said.

Another area the district could be lacking in is parent education. Right now, parents may receive bits of information on i-SAFE at parent nights and during visits with teachers, but there’s no formal education seminar or class for parents to attend.

“I think a lot of parents are looking for that kind of information,” Guertin said.

crusade to get parents more involved

That could change as Meadows and her colleagues look to increase student and parent awareness of Internet dangers. Meadows’ PTSA talked with Jackson soon after the forum and is looking into bringing another forum to CKHS sometime in the fall.

“It was kind of like a pilot (for the PTSA),” she said. “I think it’s very needed in this day and age.”

The recent forum was directed mainly at parents and older students — middle- and high school-aged — due to the content of the presentation.

But Meadows stressed that Internet safety and education is something that everyone can benefit from.

“We really want to push it, too, especially in the elementaries,” she said.

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