Online safety tips
Children and teens
• Keep your identity private, including age, birthday and the school you attend
• Never meet someone offline without a parent or guardian's consent
• Respect other people online
• Don't respond to negative messages
• Save the evidence of any potential bullying or sexual advance and set up a new account
• Start a profile on any networking site your children are on, explore it and learn its safety features
• Keep the computer in a common room
• Use filtering programs to prevent access to certain Web sites and monitor Internet record folders, such as Temporary Internet Files on Windows
• Be open with your children and encourage them to confide in you or ask questions
It's been five years since a stranger called Allie Liljedahl's home at 2 a.m.
Liljedahl was 13 then, and she gave out her phone number in an online chatroom.
"Obviously, I was pretty naÃive," said Liljedahl, now 18. "Thankfully, my parents intervened. We reported it to the police, and they took care of it."
Liljedahl, a Moffat County High School senior, is part of a joint venture between Future Business Leaders of America and Distributive Education Clubs of America to educate children and parents on the Internet's potential dangers.
During a parent seminar Monday night at the Moffat County School District Administration Building, she stressed that online safety is not an overblown issue.
"It is a big deal," Liljedahl said. "People think it isn't, but it is."
She learned that lesson firsthand, she said, which partly is why she took up this particular torch with such fervor.
The project began with a teen summit organized by Gov. Bill Ritter in fall 2008. Education Club and FBLA students from across the state were asked to take the issue back to their communities and do something about it, said Krista Shank, the high school's Education Club sponsor and business and marketing teacher.
Monday's event was "our rollout for Moffat County," she said.
"This was for the parents," Shank said. "Next, we're going to do a presentation for the eighth graders that's more geared toward teens."
Shank herself does not think of the Internet as "inherently dangerous."
However, it can be perilous, she said, and safety should be discussed if only because the Internet has become such a large part of modern American life.
"Every year, more and more teenagers are using it," Shank said. "We shouldn't tell them to stop. It's a great resource, both educationally and personally, but kids should know how the information they put on there can be used."
As the students' presentation put it, the Internet is like a knife. It can be an invaluable tool, but it also can cut someone.
The presentation covered different forms of online abuse, most prominently sexual predators and cyberbullying.
The students were careful to point out that cyberbullying is a far-reaching subhead for different kinds of manipulation, including spreading rumors, posting pictures without someone's consent or stealing someone's password and assuming their identity.
Cassie Gore, also an 18-year-old high school senior in FBLA and the Education Club, had her own experience with cyberbullying because of someone she knew from school.
"Somebody used my friend's MySpace profile to find things out about me and stalk me, basically," she said.
Like other problems that begin online, hers had to be solved in the real world.
"Sometimes people think they can do whatever online and it won't be a big deal, but that's not really the case," Gore said.
Some things even between friends can have unintended consequences.
High school students pointed to the possibility of a teenager losing their job or their college acceptance because of pictures they or their friends post online of "risque" behavior.
Walt Vanatta, Craig Police Department chief, said minors have started to take nude or semi-nude pictures of themselves and send them to other teenagers with their cell phones.
It's becoming a "significant" issue, he said. Not only is there a social concern about teenagers' boundaries, but anyone caught with such a picture of a minor - even another minor - could be charged with possession of child pornography.
The biggest take-home message, though, is for everyone to be smart and think about what they're doing, the students agreed.
People should be careful about posting pictures, video or comments that would make those they know think twice about them.
A parent who lets their child surf the Web all night, alone in their room, and never asks questions or never gets answers probably should be more involved.
Liljedahl said she learned her lesson when the phone rang early that morning five years ago, and she doesn't take things as lightly anymore.
"It was definitely a scary thing," she said. "I thought nothing of it and it turned out to be a big deal."
Collin Smith can be reached at 875-1794 or firstname.lastname@example.org