Helenair - Web Site Seeks to Protect Kids From Online Predators

News Article

By:  Mike McGrath
Date: May 15, 2008
Location: Helena, MT

Helenair - Web Site Seeks to Protect Kids From Online Predators

Montana's attorney general along with the state superintendent of schools unveiled a Web site Wednesday aimed at keeping children safe from on-line scams and predators.

The site www.safeinyourspace.org gives advice to parents, teachers and kids on a host of Internet safety considerations, like how to identify and report online predators and what to do if other kids bully your child online.

Attorney General Mike McGrath, whose agency will maintain and "constantly" update the site to keep it current, said the idea is not to discourage kids from using the Internet — a notion that is probably impossible — but to focus on preventing crimes before they occur.

"We need to send the message that the Internet is a good thing," he said. "But you need to talk to your kids, communicate."

The site, created by McGrath's Department of Justice, the Office of Public Instruction and the University of Montana's Safe Schools Center, includes Montana-specific information about state laws. The basic message, he said, is that kids will likely know more than their parents about computer technology, particularly networking sites like MySpace and Facebook. But kids don't always know how to use the Internet safely. Computer filters that prohibit certain questionable sites from being viewed on home computers are not enough to keep kids safe or to keep kids from accidentally sharing personal or financial information with scammers or predators, he said.

About 13 percent of kids will receive unwanted sexual invitations online, said Linda McCulloch, superintendent of public instruction. Better than a third of children will chat with people on-line they've never met in person. While the Internet is vital to education and becoming a more important part of children's social lives, kids need to know that they shouldn't share personal information with strangers they meet on-line, she said.
They should also know that pictures, e-mails and other communications they post on-line can be spread around in ways they may not consider, McGrath said.

The site was a year in the making, said Rick van der Pol, director of the University of Montana's Safe Schools Center, which also helped design and create the site. The idea originally came from McGrath, he said in an interview after a Wednesday press conference introducing the site.

Parents cannot expect to keep kids safe by trying to ban them from using a computer, he said. Computers are too much a part of our daily lives and present in schools, libraries, Internet cafes and other public spaces to truly keep kids away from them. Plus, van der Pol said, children need to learn to use computers.

By pooling resources between two state agencies and the university, the site didn't cost a lot of money.

"These prevention dollars were extremely well-invested," van der Pol said.

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