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Officer tries to help kids avoid getting tangled in world wide web

Information overload

The Internet can give parents a case of information overload in no time, but experts say that kids and teens still need an adult to monitor their use of digital devices.

On the web

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Posted: Wednesday, November 18, 2015 7:00 am | Updated: 3:23 pm, Thu Nov 19, 2015.

Privacy is an illusion on the Internet.

That’s what police officer Darren Laur wants kids to remember when they post anything online.

Not only is information on the world wide web public, it is permanent and searchable. Even a mask isn’t enough to keep a savvy predator with the right tools from finding a person’s identity and location, sometimes through photos and video posts.

Laur spoke to Anacortes middle and high school students during assemblies last week, then talked to a group of adults at Brodniak Hall about keeping kids safe.

His visit was a joint venture of the middle and high school PTSAs, said High School Principal Jon Ronngren.

Laur is both a police officer in Victoria, British Columbia, and co-owner of a family business, Personal Protection Systems, Inc. He operates it with his wife and son and gives speeches in Canada and the U.S. about Internet safety.

Laur talked to the Anacortes kids about safe behavior online. He talked to the adults about how to monitor the kids.

And monitor them they must, even if parents don’t think their kid is likely to wander into trouble, he said.

“The majority of our kids are doing super stuff online,” Laur said. “…They’re what I call really good digital citizens.”

But there are pitfalls anyone can fall into, he said, such as giving away information that can lead to identity theft. Or accidentally landing on a sexually explicit site.

“I call that getting caught in a pornado,” Laur said. And some kids, of course, will go there on purpose out of curiosity.

Where kids go online, who they talk to and how much they share about themselves are issues of even greater concern now because many carry the Internet in their pockets via their smartphones and gaming devices.

A 2015 Pew Research Center study found that 92 percent of teens reported going online daily, and 24 percent said they are online “almost constantly.”Pew also found that a typical teen sends and receives 30 texts per day, and communicates often with friends on social media. Many consider time they spend online connecting with friends as a version of “hanging out.” It is their virtual playground.

As principal, Ronngren hears about a lot of activity happening among students online, ranging from bullying to inappropriate sharing of sexual content. Some of the misbehavior ends up spilling into the classrooms, which is when school officials get involved.

“If a parent or student or staff reports problems, we look into it and make parents aware,” he said. A parent’s intervention can solve most problems, he said.

His advice to parents: “Stay involved; stay engaged; stay aware of what your kids are doing on their devices,” Ronngren said.

Laur noted that some kids are sending sexually oriented messages, “sexting,” as early as fifth grade, he said. Kids and teenagers may not realize that there federal and state laws against them sending or even possessing sexual content involving under-age youngsters.

Kids often think the photos or videos they post disappear, but software and screenshots can record posts, so they don’t ever go away.

Some predators use those to blackmail children and teens with threats of posting inappropriate pictures and video online, Laur said.

Laur said parents should talk to their kids about using non-gender-specific names as screen names. “Pedophiles are very age- and gender-specific,” he said.

What can parents do to protect their kids? Here are some tips from Laur:

• Talk to kids repeatedly about protecting personal information and ways to stay safe.

• Sign a “contract” with kids that explains terms of use for devices and expectations.

• Monitor kids’ phone and computer activity. Explain that keeping them safe is part of a parent’s job.

• Use parental control software, an array of which is available both for home computers and smartphones. Some names include Netnanny.com and Webwatcher.com.

• Put tape over the webcam when the camera isn’t in use. Malware could give someone a window into your world.

• Watch for signs that a child is frequently tired, secretive, withdrawn or has falling grades.

• Check kids’ apps regularly to see what they’re using. Look up any you don’t recognize.

• Omegle, Stickam, Younow and Chatroulette are popular sites for chatting and posting live videos, often sexual in nature. Kids may think they’re anonymous, but IP address software exists that predators use to find people.

• Talk about the effects of compromising photos appearing online. In addition to risks of serious humiliation, some missteps could later affect their ability to get into schools or even get jobs.

• Hold a weekly “digital dinner” during which conversation focuses on all things digital — new apps, software, what’s popular, what’s trending, etc…

• Learn the lingo: Sites such as internetlingo.com and emojipedia.org are helpful.

• Get devices, including phones and gaming consoles, out of their bedrooms. In addition to lack of supervision there, many kids keep phones under their pillows at night on vibrate in case a friend sends a message. The result is interrupted sleep, affecting health and school performance. Add to that the still unknown health risks of constant exposure to radio frequency waves that come from the devices.

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