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Online ‘buddy system’ for kids

If you want to protect your child from Internet predators, all you have to do is follow the old adage, “Be your child’s buddy.” But that little nugget of pop-psychology has a different connotation in the World Wide Web. It means be a member of your child’s “buddy list,” so you can keep tabs on who he or she is talking to on a regular basis. It was one of a host of precautions members of the 63rd Precinct Community Council learned they should take as they sat through a sobering presentation by the Kings County District Attorney’s office on how to combat Internet predators. Assistant District Attorney Chris LaLine of the Kings County District Attorney’s Sex Crime Bureau explained that if parents take the simple step of being linked to their child’s buddy list, then they would have a pretty good idea who their child is talking to online. “It will identify the screen names of the people your child connects with regularly,” LaLine explained. “From there you can identify who those screen names belong to and then go about getting as much information as possible about them.” It’s very possible that one of these “buddy’s” is not who he claims to be. The buddy could be an Internet predator looking to harm your child. “One out of five children are sexually solicited online,” LaLine said, adding that sex predators are a savvy lot who can pretend to be teenagers, soul mates, best friends – whatever it takes to get your children out of their rooms and into the streets where they could put their real-world paws on them. “Anyone can be anything they want on the Internet,” LaLine said. “These predators capitalize on that.” Armed with a presentation created by www.NetSmartz.org, meeting attendees learned that if they follow the simplest steps, they can better their children’s chances against Internet predators. But to ensure their success, ground rules must be set. “Allowing your kids to go on the Internet without ground rules is a lot like allowing them to go into the city by themselves,” LaLine said. Children should always be instructed to keep their identity private while in Internet chat rooms. They should also never respond to any online communication that makes them feel uncomfortable. Most importantly, children should never agree to meet with a person they have just met online without discussing it first with their parent or guardian, LaLine said. In turn, parents should discuss with their children about the importance of alerting them if someone on the Internet makes them feel scared, uncomfortable or confused. “You have to encourage them to confide in you,” LaLine explained. Once that degree of trust is established, parents should ask their children not only where they go on the Internet, but other places that they access the World Wide Web, such as school, the library or a friend’s house. Probably one of the most helpful tools against Internet predators is to create a screen name that can’t easily track back to the child. “If you know what your doing, you could find out a lot about someone within 20 minutes from something as simple as an Internet address,” LaLine said. Parents should also approve all of the photos that students post on their MySpace or personal web pages to make sure that nothing in them could help someone find them in the real world. “Between the photos and videos, people are putting far too much information about themselves online,” LaLine said. “Even something as simple as a school flag on a wall in the background could help the wrong person start a process to track your child down.” Any provocative pictures that could entice a sex predator should also be taken down, he said. “The Internet is probably one of the most extraordinary tools we have today, but it is also has a fair share of dangers,” said Kings County District Attorney Charles Hynes. After seeing a similar presentation about Internet predators, Hynes said that he “told my son Patrick to make sure that the computer was out of my granddaughter’s bedroom.” The computer should always be kept in a common area so parents can check on their kids Internet activities, he said. “Hundreds of kids are taken out of their homes by the computer and lost forever,” he said. To learn more about one can better protect their children against Internet predators, one can log onto www.netsmartz.org or www.bklynda.org.

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