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Program to educate parents on social networking dangers

By Kevin Kelley

Westlake

Much of the push by educators and law enforcement officials to promote Internet safety among children has been geared toward the high school and middle school crowd.

But Christie Wiedt, a parent who chairs the Westlake City Schools’ Health and Safety Committee, said safety information needs to be provided to parents of preteen children as well.

A public program entitled “Social Networking and Young Children” will take place between 7 and 8 Thursday night at the Westlake City Schools Performing Arts Center, adjacent to Westlake High School, at 27830 Hilliard Blvd.

The program, which Wiedt organized, will cover topics such as cellphone use, cyberbullying, online chatting, sexting, child predator grooming and “follow-me” apps.

Randy Kimbro, an Olmsted Falls firefighter and graduate of the FBI’s Citizens’ Academy, and Colleen Brown, the FBI’s community outreach specialist, will be the program’s speakers.

Some school counselors on the Health and Safety Committee have said they were seeing third- and fourth-graders bring cellphones to school and use them in inappropriate ways, Wiedt said.

According to a 2009 poll by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, the age at which children get their first cellphone has dropped in recent years. Forty-two percent got their first at age 12, 47 percent at age 10 or 11, and 10 percent under the age of 10, the poll found.

Wiedt said that many parents give their children cellphones for peace of mind that children can contact them if they need a ride or in case of an emergency.

“On the other hand, some parents aren’t savvy enough to know what kind of things their kids can get into online,” she added.

Thursday’s program is geared for parents of children in kindergarten through grade 6, Wiedt said. Parents of children in that age range really want and need this kind of information, she said.

“It’s never too early to start learning about this,” she said.

FBI Special Agent Vicki Anderson told West Life one of the most important lessons parents and children need to know about the Internet is not to give out too much information.

“So many times people chose usernames that really give away their identity,” she said. A username with one’s first name and the year one was born can give away a child’s age, she noted.

Users should not be overconfident in a social networking site’s privacy settings, Anderson said. Personal information and photos can still possibly be accessed despite such settings, she said.

“Real good hackers out there can get around those things,” she said.

Anderson said the FBI also warns students against posting information about their personal schedules and where they will be. Child predators can compile such information, she said.

Anderson also warns students against sexting, the electronic sending of sexually explicit messages or photos, especially between cellphones.

“It comes back to haunt them years later,” the FBI agent said.

In some cases, teens found guilty of sexting can be legally categorized as sexual offenders, a label originally intended for offending adults.

 

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