July 7, 2009

EIE Featured in Latina Style: Internet Risks for Children
 

INTERNET Risks for Children

Content from Latina Style Magazine

July 2009
By Julie Barelas and Gloria Romano

Cyberbullying, sexual solicitations, child pornography, they exist to the most powerful communication tool ever invented; the Internet. A valuable informational and communications tool, the Internet is leading internet safety groups, law enforcement agencies, educational and youth organizations to inform parents about risks associated with unmonitored use by children and teens. When youth venture into the world of cyber communications, whether by use of the internet or via cellular phone, parents need to be aware of the dangers that lurk within the world of instantaneous connectivity.

According to a survey conducted by the Omnibuzz Research for the Polly Klass Foundation of tweens (ages 8-12) and teens (ages 13-18) revealed that online teens frequently communicate virtually with someone they've never met: 54 percent have done so using instant messaging (IM); 50 percent via email; and 45 percent in a chat room. More than half of the respondents (56%) said they've been asked personal questions online, more than one third of these online teens (37%) said they've received a link to sexually explicit content, one in four (27%) said they've talked online about sex with someone they never met in person. And, nearly one in five (19%) reported knowing a friend who has been harassed or asked about sex online by a stranger.

Girls reported more risky behavior overall than did boys. More than half of these online teens (56%) said they've been asked personal questions (such as their age, sex, or location) online. Significantly more tweens (82%) than teens (58%) report having discussed internet safety with their parents. Correspondingly higher levels of tweens (59%) than teens (40%) report being concerned about being approached by adult strangers online. Disturbing to note is that 11 percent of teens reported being solicited online by adults and keeping the incident from their parents.

"Cybercrimes involve everyone," says Alex Davila, supervisor for the Exploited Children Division at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). "It is not limited to a specific race or gender and it is up to each family and community to actively educate their youth on how to be safe on the Internet."

According to Davila, parents in the Hispanic community sometimes face the dual challenge of talking to their child about a technology they are not familiar with. Because of the unfamiliarity with the resources and language barrier, there has been a concerted effort to offer as many resources in Spanish as possible. One of several resources available is the online safety and awareness service such as NetSmartz411.org., where users are able to e-mail or call an NCMEC expert at any time for any information.

Despite the safeguards in place in many households and schools, parents should always supervise the content their child is viewing online instead of having free reign on the Internet. Monica Y. Quintero, a fifth grade teacher in Houston, Texas and parent of two boys, 14 and 10 said her approach is being upfront with her sons and talking to them about the internet as an educational tool, not leaving behind the negative aspect of it. "At our school we have filters and the children are limited to which search engines they use," she explains. "I do let my students know that my expectations are that they make the right choices when they are at home. If a parent is not around and they see violent things, that they make the right choice.

Since parents can't always prevent their child from entering the dark side of the cyberworld, programs such as the FBI, Crimes Against Children (CAC) assists on best practices to keep children safe. Its mission is to "first, decrease the vulnerability of children to sexual exploitation; second, to develop a nationwide capacity to provide a rapid, effective, and measured investigative response to crimes against children; and third, to enhance the capabilities of state and local law enforcement investigators through programs, investigative assistance, and task force operations."

"The Internet is very valuable in the learning environment, but there is a dark side to using it and they need to take precautions," says special agent Marc Botello, of the FBI's CAC unit in Los Angeles, Calif., who along other unit members, acknowledges the importance of keeping parents aware of using and abusing the Internet, and provides teachers, parents, and students with Internet safety workshops. "I have found that in Los Angeles, they [parents] are very interested about what takes place on the internet and I'm surprised with the number of questions about what they see, and what they can do. I'm happy that parents are taking an interest to protect their children."

Gladys Padro-Soler, director of Membership Strategies and a key member of the Hispanic Initiative at the Girl Scouts of the USA Organization, has worked with several Latino organizations in New York City communities prior to her assignment with GSUSA. "At the beginning of the technology revolution, we saw the division between Latinos and other populations that had access to technology. I never encountered a parent that did not want their daughter to thrive in her education and career aspirations with the help of the technology that is around her," she says. "I met parents that were only afraid of what dangers lurked for their daughters from the many tragedies they heard about in the news; others were very sad that they did not have the means to provide a computer for their kids at home."

Recently, GSUSA and Microsoft Corporation teamed up to create "LMK" (text vocabulary for "let me know"), an online safety resource led by an all-girl board where they can discuss subjects online such as cyberbullying, predators and social networking issues. "We have much work moving forward to ensure that LMK is utilized by Hispanic parents," reports Michelle Tompkins, spokesperson for GSUSA. "We will see from feedback we receive from families and local Girl Scout councils whether Spanish translations would make it possible for even greater numbers of parents to understand the use of the technology and the features they can easily access to ensure that computers at home are safe."

Given the combination of anonymity and deception that the internet enables, children need the extra attention and guidance as they venture online, and action by legislators has already taken place with the 'Child Online Privacy Protection Act' which safeguards children from becoming victims of online danger. Most recent, Congresswoman Linda T. Sánchez (D-CA) re-introduced the "Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act" to Congress.

The case occurred in 2006, when 13-year-old Megan Meire made new friends through MySpace, and received numerous insults and was humiliated online by one of her 'friends'. Afterwards, she hanged herself and did not survive to learn that the 'friend' did not exist but was a creation of a 47-year-old neighbor. Because the case did not constitute a crime under Missouri State Law, prosecuters did not bring criminal charges against the offender, Lori Drew, who was charged only with fraud.

If this bill is passed it would allow federal prosecutors to punish those individuals who, via electronic communication, engage in bullying. "Cyberbullying is particularly pernicious, yet there is no federal statue against it. There are new words that didn't exist just a couple of years ago: "sexting," "textual harassment,' or "cyberbullying," says Sanchez, as she defines cyberbullying to 'repeated, hostile, and severe electronic communications that are made with the intent to coerce, harass, or cause substantial emotional distress."

"Cyberbullies are getting away with destructive behavior that should be labeled a crime, and it is time to put this to a stop," she states. "Youth experts say that because many teens are so immersed in new technology culture, they are uniquely vulnerable to this growing problem. Cyberbullying is not accidental, my bill only encompasses cyberbullying that is repeated, hostile, and severe."

According to the most recent update, the bill has 14-bipartisan co-sponsors and she is working relentlessly to move this legislation forward.

"Protecting children online involves both education programs and software solutions. We believe both are necessary in order to protect children," voices Laura Garcia-Manrique, Strategic Product Management Vice President, Symantec, a global leader in security software, storage and management products and services. Symantec announced the release of a "free" public beta software product, Norton Online Family, a web-based internet safety service. "It's easy to use and uniquely designed for busy parents who need quick and easy insight into their children's online activities," explains Garcia-Manrique of the software. "Existing parental control software has met parents' basic needs by blocking "bad" sites or enabling them to spy on kids' activities."

"Parents are the first line of defense against online dangers, and every parent, grandparent and adult childcare provider must be educated and equipped with the resources they need to protect children from online threats," claims Cris Clapp, educator and advisor for Enough is Enough (EIE), an internet safety awareness organization whose mission is to make the Internet safe for children and families. The organization began a pilot program called Internet Safety 101SM: Empowering Parents Program through a series of regional town hall meetings in Virginia last Fall. A grant from Verizon enabled every Virginia PTA to receive a copy of the program and in Spring 2009, a national roll out of the program, the launch of the Internet Safety 101SM website, Internet Safety101.org and the national version of the Internet Safety 101SM: Empowering Parents DVD and workbook will be launched.

The internet is a place of exploration and wonder, but can be a frightening experience once a child encounters the 'dark side' of it. "We should be aware that social networking sites and electronic communication plays a huge role in kids' lives, something that is completely different from the generations of their parents," says Sanchez. "We need to take steps to make sure our children know how to use the internet in safe ways. This is what is happening on the internet except it can be crueler and more abusive because of the anonymity of the web. The first thing parents need to do is recognize that cyberbullying really is a danger. I hear all too often that 'kids will be kids' and that bullying really isn't a serious issue. My message to parents is that bullying, including cyberbullying, can be deadly."

Protect Your Loved Ones

Protecting children online is very similar to preparing them for the risks they face in other areas of their lives. "It is important to set up rules and guidelines with your child so that they are able to make responsible choices on their own," voices Davila. Here are some tips he suggests parents should implement to help children and teens be safe on the internet.

Keep the computer in a public location of the house.

Do not allow computers in the child's bedroom.

Restrict the amount of time your child can be online.

Restrict the time of day your child can use the internet.

Know who your child is communicating with. Do not allow your child to use chat or instant messaging programs without your supervision.

Set guidelines specifying for what purposes they are they are allowed to use the Internet and what sites they may visit.

Talk to your child about the possible risks of the Internet and how they can avoid those risks. Open the lines of communication so that your child feels comfortable coming to you and how they can avoid those risks. Open the lines of communication so that your child feels comfortable coming to you if anything makes them feel scared or uncomfortable.

Be accessing the Internet, such as at school, a friend's house, libraries, and even on their cell phones.

Let your child show you what they like to do online and show you their favorite sites.

Familiarize yourself with more information by visiting the following online resources:
www.cybertipline.com
http://lmk.girlscouts.org (Site for girls)
http://letmeknow.girlscouts.org (Site for parents/adults)
http://www.Enough.org
http://www.fbi.gov/publications/pguide/pguidee.htm
http://www.netsmartz.org/index.aspx
http://www.netsmartz411.org/
http://www.safetyclicks.com/category/internet-lingo/
www.usdoj.gov/criminal/cybercrime/reporting.htm#cc