Teachers, school administrators, children’s advocates and other concerned adults got an eye-opening lesson this (Tuesday) afternoon at a training session about keeping kids safe on the Internet. Mike Ferjak, an investigator with the Attorney General’s office, helped put together the training, to help show adults how to teach “Netsmarts” to schoolchildren.
Ferjack says the way he’s heard it put best is, “We’re never going to ‘arrest our way out of this problem’ — we have to be more pro-active than reactive.” He says if adults can get the warning message out to kids, they’ll be safer from people who try to befriend them for the wrong reasons.
Ferjak says the target group is kids age ten to 17, and researchers tell him that one in seven kids in that age group will be sexually solicited on-line this year. He adds that one in 33 will be “aggressively pursued,” by phone, mail or in person by someone they met on-line. He says rather than falling for a fake identity, a young surfer’s greatest risk is of giving themselves away.
The single greatest error, he says, is giving out too much personal information, data that a predator will manipulate and exploit. If you don’t think your information’s out there, he says, “Go out and Google your own name and see what comes up.” He says there’s a lot of information on the ‘net about everybody, if not kids then about their parents — as any search engine will quickly prove.
Ferjak says predators are good at putting together those pieces of the puzzle. “With a very small amount of information, such as a screen name and perhaps a piece of somebody’s on-line profile, it takes about 20 minutes to figure out who you are and where you are.” He says the impression that you’re anonymous on the Internet is just that — a myth.
After this week’s training sessions for teachers, Ferjak will do live educational “Netsmarts” lessons for groups of students over the Iowa Communications Network, and classroom presentations also will be offered to any school that signs up, by the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.