Alberni Valley Times

Internet can be risky for youth, new course teaches online safety

Goody Niosi, For The Times

Published: Friday, February 24, 2012

The Internet can be a dangerous place for children. Darren Laur, of Personal Protection Systems Inc. in Victoria, aims to make children safer by making them aware of the dangers that lurk a keystroke away.

Laur is bringing his message to A.W. Neill and E.J. Dunn Middle Schools on Feb. 28 and 29 with an evening session for parents at Neill on Feb. 28 from 6 to 8 p.m. Nora Moncur, principal of Neill said the timing fits in with the school's program for February, which is anti-bullying month. However, the message Laur brings is far broader than prevention of online bullying.

"Our students use technology multiple times a day," Moncur said. "But they really don't understand the significance of what they're doing when they post online or when they chat with people from who knows where. They don't know what could happen."

Laur, who is also a staff sergeant with the Victoria City Police Department, brings a message of online safety that covers predators and even Internet pornography. Sexual predation online is actually relatively rare, he said.

"It does happen," he said. "But the biggest threat to our kids online right now is everything to do with bullying and harassment and privacy issues around what they're saying online."

Kids are building "digital dossiers" that are searchable by post-secondary institutions and employers. Laur pointed out that posting photos or information that may seem funny when a youth is 13, won't be remotely amusing when he applies for a scholarship a few years later.

"One of the biggest mistakes we make is believing that everything we post online is private because we have our privacy settings turned on," Laur said. "But everything we post online is public, permanent and searchable. Even if you click the delete button, it's still there."

Laur has given his presentation to thousands of students. It makes a difference, he said.

"Kids are now reaching out to us for help," he added.

He said that in the past 18 months he and his wife have been able to save the lives of 12 young people who were considering suicide due to bullying, or what Laur calls "digital peer aggression."

Moncur said that parents may not realize that everything a student does online has significance. The presentation for both students and parents will be thorough.

"I hope the children take away an awareness and an understanding what it means to be online," Moncur said. "That there are consequences to being online and you need to protect yourself."

She adds that children need to access technology, but they need to do it safely. Parents also need to know how they can help protect their children while they are online.

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