Foothills parents learn about Internet dangers - The Explorer: Import

Foothills parents learn about Internet dangers

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Posted: Tuesday, April 11, 2006 11:00 pm | Updated: 7:52 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

April 12, 2006 - Elaina is 18 years old and a senior at Catalina Foothills High School. She smokes, has a part time job and recently got her first tattoo.

Elaina shares this information on her online profile to her friends and the millions of Myspace.com users.

Within a matter of minutes browsing Elaina's personalized profile page any visitor to Myspace can see pictures of her partying with her friends and posing in her underwear proudly displaying her new tattoo.

Elaina, who does not give her last name on the site, is one of the more than 60 million Myspace.com users. And at a recent Internet safety lecture held April 5 at Esperero Canyon Middle School, parents were told information and pictures, much like Elaina's are putting kids in danger.

"It (the Internet) can be a good thing," said Craig Brisbine, senior special agent with the Department of Homeland Security. "But, there is a seedier side to it that you have to watch out for."

Brisbine told more than 50 parents and teachers what to watch for when they see their children using the Internet. A large portion of his lecture waged verbal war on Myspace.com and what he said is a dangerous and slippery slope young children and teens are sliding down.

Brisbine, like most of the parents in the audience, does not believe kids like Elaina are trying to be devious or that they imagine they could become the victim of an online predator. They just don't know any better, he said.

It doesn't take much information to find out all a child predator would need to locate that person of interest, Brisbine said.

"Something just as easy as a screen name," he said, can be used to find a person's location and telephone number. "It wouldn't take a genius to figure out who they are."

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, one in five adolescents are sexually solicited online. With pertinent contact information, such as age, real name, school and what time they get home from school, it becomes a virtual playground for criminals, Brisbine said.

Brisbine is an undercover agent and spends each day sitting behind a computer screen posing as an underage girl or boy. He enters chat rooms and Internet networking sites and waits for Internet predators to solicit him. It doesn't take long, he said.

Brisbine said there is no difference between what he is doing online and what children are doing, he said.

"I'm referred to as the ugliest teenage girl on the Internet," Brisbine joked, because many of the people he chats with online think he is an underage teen.

He tells a story of a guy from Texas messaging him and within 10 minutes of meeting the guy online, the Texan was talking about coming to Tucson and meeting with what he thought was an underage girl, Brisbine said.

"I get these guys all the time," he said. "Sometimes, within 10 minutes they want to fire up the web cam."

Esperero Canyon Middle School and Canyon View Elementary School sponsored the Internet safety event as a way to educate parents on what their son or daughter may be doing while online, and the dangers that may lurk on their home computer screen.

"We will host as many of these as we need to," said Chris Ahearn, principal for Canyon View Elementary School.

Ahearn said it was important for parents to become educated on what the Internet has to offer.

"It makes no sense to talk to kids, if their parents are blissfully unaware," he said.

An age-appropriate Internet safety lecture will be held for grades three, four and five at Canyon View, Ahearn said.

Brian Lorimer, principal at Esperero Canyon Middle School hoped more parents would attend the lecture, but was pleased to get the dialogue rolling on an issue that will not be going away as long as the Internet is plugged into children's lives, he said.

"You have to teach your kids to make good decisions," he said. "You have to perceive the dangers that are out there."

Lorimer told parents that, as a principal, he has seen many of his student's personal profiles on Myspace.com.

Myspace.com has grown in popularity, with thousands of online profiles started daily. What once began as a social networking forum primarily for unsigned musicians has quickly become the pastime for America's youth.

"There's an awful lot of Myspace going on at Esperero," he said. "We've had cyber harassment. We have a safe school, but our students are beginning to dabble in this."

Anyone with a computer can view individual online profiles, something Brisbine said entices online predators. While no child under the age of 14 is supposed to be able to access the site, Brisbine said lying about your age is simple.

More than 200,000 profiles have been deleted from Myspace.com under suspicion that the users lied about their age, Brisbine said.

Stacy Sump has two kids, one in kindergarten and the other in first grade. Her kids play on the computer daily, she said, so much so she had to buy each their own computer.

Sump broke out in tears as she spoke about what she believes is a very dangerous cyber world, one that she knows little about, she said.

"It's so scary," she said. "My first-grader knows how to send e-mail. Parents are not as technically savvy as their kids."

Now that she knows what to watch out for with her children online, she said, she feels safer.

"Now that I know, I can self-educate about these things," she said.

Orange Grove Middle School Principal Phil Woodall knows all too well the impact the Internet and Myspace.com is having on students.

Woodall has been outspoken on his dislike of Myspace for months, often writing letters to parents stressing the dangers of the site.

"Myspace.com is not an appropriate site for any of our students to be registered on," Woodall wrote in the April 7 issue of the school's newsletter.

"Don't allow children to post personal information about themselves on the Web for any reason," Woodall said. "It just opens up the possibility they can be tracked and perpetrators just love to do that."

In addition to online predators, Myspace is often used to spread rumors and participate in bullying via the Internet, he said.

Students faked an online profile of Woodall, uploading pictures of him from the district's Web site.

"Kids are very tech-savvy," he said. "I don't think it was done maliciously."

Students at Orange Grove Middle School receive lessons built into their curriculum that deal with Internet safety, Woodall said.

But no matter what is taught at school, parents are still responsible for what their child views online, he said.

"The bigger issue is kids come home between three and six and are probably still alone and have that opportunity to log on. Parents need to know that they are responsible for that," he said. "A lot of time parents are afraid to either unplug it or tell them no."

The best chance parents have to protect their kids is to educate them, he said.

"These kids are what we call digital natives," he said. "They are very technologically savvy, technology does not scare them in the least. The parents are not digital natives. They are immigrants. They don't have a clue. They are less savvy and less knowledgeable."

To keep students away from viewing online sites such as Myspace.com, the school computers have built in firewall protection, which blocks the admittance to inappropriate sites.

But no matter what is installed on the computers, students almost always find a way around it, Woodall said.

That is why at the beginning of the year students sign an Internet usage agreement, he said.

So far, four students at Orange Grove have had their Internet privileges revoked due to viewing inappropriate material, Woodall said.

© 2014 The Explorer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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