Avoiding a Web of danger

Internet safety class for parents warns against predators, identity theft and bullying

Kyra Workman spends three hours a day online.

"Some of the time I'm doing homework, but most of the time I'm on MySpace or MSN," the Moffat County High School freshman said.

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She doesn't have one friend without a MySpace page, but she does have friends who have been propositioned to meet strangers they'd met online.

Did her friends do it? No.

"They were scared, and they knew something bad could have happened," Workman said.

That's a sigh of relief for teacher Susan Whinery, who's leading an Internet safety push in the Moffat County School District.

She taught a semester-long Internet safety workshop for high school freshmen, which Workman attended.

Whinery is now addressing the rest of the high school students, as well as some at Craig Intermediate School.

She's also hosting informational meetings to inform parents about keeping their children safe on the Internet. She hosted the first meeting Monday, and she has three more planned in coming weeks.

"My goal is simply to get some parents in here that are interested, that know they don't know as much as their children know, and teach them perhaps to have a better handle on what's going on with their kids on the Internet," Whinery said.

She's using materials from i-SAFE, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping youths make responsible online decisions.

She focuses on avoiding identity theft, copyright infringements, Internet predators and cyber bullying.

"I think our kids know more than their parents," Whinery said of online use. "I don't think our parents are ever going to catch up, but they need to be aware."

A popular Web site youths access nationwide is MySpace.com, where individuals create their own Web pages and can post blogs, photos and personal information for the public at large to see.

Whinery said youths who have MySpace accounts, and use similar online programs, need to be aware of potential predators accessing their information and trying to meet them face-to-face.

"Kids who are really smart mark their MySpace private, and then the only ones who can see (their Web page) are the ones they invite," Whinery said.

Scott Smith, a MCHS junior who heard Whinery's seminar Wednesday, said his MySpace page is marked private for that reason.

"Keeping weird people from seeing my MySpace," Smith said.

He's not worried about strangers finding out information about him because he, like most of his friends, are cautious.

"I don't see (MySpace) as a threat for sexual predators," Smith said. "We don't put dumb stuff on there so people can find us and come get us.

"Everyone knows that. If not, you've been hiding under a rock for the last 10 years."

He thought Whinery's class was informative, but perhaps a bit late for high school-age students. That's why Whinery and five freshmen students are taking the class to fifth-graders this month.

And for parents who need an Internet safety tutorial, Whinery has three more community meetings planned for Tuesday, April 25 and May 3.

For more information, call Whinery at 824-7036.

Michelle Perry can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 213, or mperry@craigdailypress.com.

What: Moffat County High School teacher Susan Whinery's Internet safety class

When: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, 6:30 p.m. April 25 and 6:30 p.m. May 3

Where: Room 306 at the high school, 900 Finley Lane

To protect from Internet predators:

  • Keep user names and profiles generic and anonymous
  • Avoid posting personal photos
  • Always keep private information private
  • Keep computer in an open area
  • Be part of your child's online experience

To protect from identity theft:

  • Monitor your credit report regularly
  • Beware of all requests for personal information online
  • Shred documents before putting them in trash
  • Install a locking mailbox or use post office
  • Notify law enforcement of "dumpster diving"
  • Place a fraud alert on your credit

Source: i-SAFE, www.i-safe.org>

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