As technology ingrains itself more into our everyday lives, more kids have access to the Internet and cell phones.
Unfortunately, that brings with it more instances of children being targeted in Internet crimes and cyberbullying.
“In school we talk about being safe crossing the street, walking to school and when talking to strangers,” said Washington Elementary Principal Karen Ziegler. “But what the kids don’t realize is that they may be talking to strangers on the Internet and that’s just as unsafe, if not more.”
About a dozen Billings families with kids at Washington Elementary got plenty of tips Thursday night on keeping kids safe in the online and digital worlds.
As part of an ongoing series of meetings sponsored by Bresnan Communications and the Montana Federal Bureau of Investigation, a member of the state’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force laid out useful tips for kids and parents at Washington Elementary. The task force is a statewide collection of about 30 agencies, mostly made up of law enforcement.
“This is a great way to get information out to these families,” said Melanee Emmett, a local probation and parole officer with the Montana Department of Corrections and task force member.
Emmett gave the 20 or so kids on hand simple tips to use at home to protect themselves. Chief among them was, if an unknown person approaches them online — whether through e-mail, social networking sites or other methods — they should ignore the person, tell a trusted adult and save the message or conversation for evidence.
She also encouraged parents to keep an open dialogue with their kids about Internet use and to use safety and monitoring programs at home.
Also discussed was cyberbullying, which is bullying over the Internet or by text message. Ziegler said she’s already dealt this school year with four incidents of things said online or via text spilling over into the classroom.
“It has happened a lot here,” she said.
Randy Friez, from Bresnan Communications, said the company helped establish the meetings four years ago because, as an Internet provider, it felt responsible to help educate on proper safety.
“It’s so people know what to do in case something happens,” she said. “We want to make sure people know what to watch for.”