July 30, 2008

Educate, Communicate to Keep Children Safe From Online Bullies

By Al Gibes

Bullies are everywhere - including the Internet.

Just ask Krystina Kinney and her mom, Karen, about it. The pair, along with 17 other teens and preteens, learned plenty about the hazards lurking just a few keystrokes away and how to protect themselves from them, at the third annual National Summit on Internet Safety last week in Washington, D.C.

The event (www.safeteensonline.com) was sponsored by Cox Communications and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

"Educate, educate, educate, educate," Karen Kinney said, when asked about the key to solving the problem of cyberbullying.

She added that communication between parents and their children is another key ingredient to making the Internet safer.

"Do it by having a conversation with them, not an interrogation," Krystina, 14, said.

Both mother and daughter emphasized the importance of taking a genuine interest in what your child is doing when they are using the Internet.

Krystina said a male summit participant shared his story of being bullied online by a female. The boy stopped using the Internet completely after someone posted objectionable comments on his MySpace page, she said. He learned later it was a girl he knew.

"People think it's always boys doing it (cyberbullying) to girls," Krystina said. "But boys are in danger, too."

Laura Nelson, Miss USA 2007, shared her story of being in a chat room when she was 13 years old. The room included both friends and strangers, and a girlfriend shared personal information with a man she didn't know. The man later confronted the girl, which was a wake- up call for Nelson.

In 2007 Nelson helped police arrest 11 pedophiles in one evening, posing as a 14-year-old. She was part of a live event - the "America's Most Wanted" television program - during which Nelson chatted with the men and invited them to a house in New York where police nabbed them as she waved them in.

Just how easy it is to learn a lot about someone with only a little information was illustrated during the summit. An e-mail address, first name and the name of another family member was given to an experienced computer user.

"Within 20 minutes he knew where the girl lived, where she went to school, when school started and ended, and her likes and dislikes," Karen said.

All the information was available via Web searches.

"Kids can use the Internet with rules and safety measures. We used to worry about kids going into parks, now it's (the danger) in our own homes."

You can read Krystina's account of her summit experience at her blog, which is linked from my Tidbits blog: (www.lvrj.com/blogs/ onlineguy). I also have a link to the results of a Cox study on tween Internet use.

Share your Internet story with me at [email protected]

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