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Parents warned on Internet dangers

Alden parents got a computer lesson last week, one that they hope will prevent their children from becoming victims of online criminal behavior.

Patti McLain, a community educator with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, came to the school district to warn parents about the dangers in being connected to the Internet.

A recent study conducted by the University of New Hampshire and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children says that one in 25 children have received aggressive sexual solicitation through the Internet.

"Kids tend to forget 'www' stands for World Wide Web," McLain told an Alden High School auditorium audience filled with parents. "The Internet has become a playground for pedophiles."

Social networking Web sites such as myspace.com, facebook.com and others, along with instant messaging, are the perfect net for pedophiles to catch victims, according to McLain.

Because parents believe children are only sending messages to friends on their "buddy list" and because children are curious by nature, pedophiles are given the perfect opportunity to find their next victim by posing as another teen or child, she warned.

"We have to inform, educate and empower a new generation of Web users," McLain said in the forum sponsored by the school district. "Forty-four percent of parents say they know little or nothing about their child's online activity. Of the one in seven children who are approached online, only 12 percent tell their parents."

That silence is what McLain says is the real danger plaguing a generation of Internet-savvy youngsters and their parents.

"Discuss with children the importance of telling you or a trusted adult what is going on," she said.

McLain said that when communicating with children, it is important that parents prepare beforehand and "be cool."

While she admits staying cool can be difficult when the subject can be so terrifying, remaining calm and listening to children is the key to stopping a problem before one starts, she said.

Patty Schieder, a parent of a 9-year-old and a 12-year-old in the Alden School District, took McLain's words to heart.

"I thought that I was pretty computer-savvy, but tonight I learned a lot," Schieder said. "I didn't know how fast someone can get [personal] information. I am going right home and having a talk."

McLain, an Amherst parent, said the most common misconception concerns the possibility of being victimized.

"No one thinks they are going to be a victim," she said. "No one thinks it is going to happen to their kid."

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