May 17, 2006

DON'T TALK TO (OR EMAIL) STRANGERS

Guest opinion by Idaho Senator Mike Crapo

Donâ??t talk to strangers. Most of us have heard these words time and again. In our cyber age, this advice takes a slightly different form, but the sentiment remains the same--we must teach our children to use the web safely and responsibly. 2003 Census data showed that 56 percent of Idaho households had Internet access. The Idaho Department of Commerce and Labor estimates a 10 percent increase since that time. With the State Legislatureâ??s recent approval of $5 million in matching funds for rural communities to provide Internet connectivity, more Idaho families will have Internet access soon. In a recent national survey of 100,000 children aged 5 to 18, i-Safe America found that 90 percent of students in grades 5 â?? 12 have Internet access; 23 percent are online more than five hours per week. Eight percent were asked to keep an Internet friendship secret; 12 percent have been upset by a strangerâ??s online comment. While 94 percent of parents claimed to know about their childâ??s online activities, only 54 percent of students tell parents where they go online. Twenty-five percent of students said their parents, on some level, wouldnâ??t approve of their online activities, and 13.8 percent keep Internet usage secret from friends and family. An alarming number give out personal information online: Almost 30 percent of seventh graders have provided their name, email address, age and/or gender; over 50 percent of twelfth graders have done so. Over 50 percent of students prefer to surf the web alone, and many do. These numbers reflect computer user behavior. What are websites doing to safeguard young users? Consider MySpace, the eighth-largest web property hosting 75 million registered users, where people create profiles of themselves, talk online, and post photos; and Photobucket, an online photo and video storage website. According to the Wall Street Journal, MySpaceâ??s advertising sales depend on its ability to keep content unobjectionable. Photobucket monitors its website for pornographic material. With 50 billion images on the site every month, screening is random, but the company reports pornographic material to authorities. Law enforcement patrols the web for predators and tells parents: -Computers with Internet should be in a common room.-Parental controls and monitoring software are readily available.-Parents should review information in a childâ??s screen name or Internet profile; predators often use this to target and pursue victims.-Children must never meet face-to-face someone they meet online; disclose their name, address, school or telephone number online; or upload or download pictures to or from people they meet online and donâ??t know personally. Warning signs that may indicate a child is a victim of an Internet predator:-A child spending large amounts of time online, particularly when parents may be at work. -Pornography is found on a childâ??s computer--predators often send their victims pornography to engage them in sexual discussions. -A child receiving calls or calling unfamiliar numbers. -A child receiving mail, gifts or packages from unknown sources. -A child attempting to hide what they are doing on the computer--turning off the monitor or changing the screen when others walk into the room. -A child using an online account belonging to someone else. -A child becoming withdrawn.The United States Senate has declared June Internet Safety Month. Talk with your children about wise, responsible Internet usage. Parents are the first line of defense against Internet crimes. The Web is a revolutionary information tool and is essential to many aspects of society. The free-market nature of this resource makes it imperative that young people safeguard their privacy and finances, and under any circumstances, do NOT take actions that compromise personal safety. WORD COUNT: 602