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Parents learn digital downfalls during Cyber Safety Learning

By: Sherri Kolade | Farmington Press | Published March 5, 2015

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FARMINGTON HILLS — With online stranger-danger threats seemingly lurking around every online corner, a group of parents learned how to better equip themselves and their children with how to stay safe on and off the web during a Feb. 26 Michigan Cyber Safety Initiative (CSI) program at Forest Elementary School.

“We want to make sure we’re aware of how easy it is for people to get our information,” CSI presenter Lori Abee said. “A lot of times it is just asking good questions, talking to your kids.”

The program, sponsored by the Michigan Attorney General’s Office, featured sites and apps, warning signs and safety tips, and online resources. Several educational videos and slides were also shown informing  parents what their children have learned in a similar program.

According to CSI pamphlets, popular sites and apps children head to after Facebook include Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr, Vine, Kik Messenger and Ooovoo.

Abee said that in the 12-17 age range, 95 percent use the Internet, 85 percent use social media, 78 percent have cellphones, while 90 percent use web-based console games.

Abee said that 65 percent of sex offenders get their information from social media sites.

“I’d like to make sure to point out that with online games, a lot of information that predators get from children is from online video games,” she said.

Abee added that your digital footprint is open to the public when you share your information online.

“Everything they tweet, text, post — anything you share through an app — anything you share on the Internet is there forever,” Abee said.

She added that a lot of students have about 200 Facebook friends, and they should make sure they are protecting their digital footprint by using strong passwords, strong privacy settings, and choosing who their friends are.

“Make sure as adults you realize people are watching your digital footprint,” she added. “Parents, teachers, coaches are watching your digital footprint.”

Forest media specialist Sue Kalisky said she brought the program to the school after hearing about it through another media specialist, and it is a “nice way to introduce Internet safety to kids.”

Abee said students from varying age levels are taught to tell a trusted adult if they feel uncomfortable with something on the Internet, and even to ask permission to use the web. They are also taught to keep away from “Internet strangers.”

Other student presentations focus on suicide, bullying, sexting and more.

She added that high schoolers are in a “really unique position to keep themselves safe” when it comes to online activities.

Having an online safety contract is also an important tool to use when speaking to children about avoiding dangerous behaviors online.

“We didn’t grow up like these kids are,” Kalisky said. “What is intuitive to them is not intuitive to us. Stay one step ahead.”

She added that everyone needs to be aware that their children could be exposed to a lot of “bad people” out there.

Becky Carter, a parent of a Forest second grader, said she keeps her daughter safe while she’s online.

Abee added that it is important for parents to start talking with their children about potential online threats.

“Key components of keeping our children safe is open and honest communication,” Abee said. “It starts off if you have that communication when they are younger and can continue that, that is great.”

She added that a lot of times parents tend to overreact, which can sometimes be detrimental.

“There are rare times that is definitely justified, but we want you to step back and think when you make a choice when you do overact, especially the first time. That will be the last time they talk to you.”

She also encouraged parents to ask their children questions, first to create a dialogue.

“I remember asking my daughter, 13 years old then, if she ever got a message from somebody she didn’t know — and she did, then blocked him and didn’t tell me about,” she said. “Once I asked her that first time, then when something happened again, she came to me.

“We’re talking about tools to keep our kids safe. We also want to make sure you’re asking good questions,” she said.

For more information, go to www.michigan.gov/ag.

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