What parents should know about using the Internet

The most important thing to remember is you are your children's Internet access provider. Investigator Chad Shelmidine Office of the State Attorney General PLATTSBURGH As more and more children continue to use the Internet, the office of the state Attorney General wants parents to have the information they need to keep them safe. Chad Shelmidine, an investigator with the Watertown regional office of the state Attorney General, made a presentation to the Plattsburgh Noon Rotary Club Nov. 19, discussing what parents should be aware of when their children use the Internet. Social networking Web sites, such as MySpace and Facebook, are great tools for keeping children in touch with friends and family, said Shelmidine. However, the profiles our children create on these sites are also able to be accessed, to a certain extent, by people they dont know. The sites allow the users to create a profile which can list their hometown, on-line screen names, e-mail addresses, hobbies, likes and dislikes and even if theyre looking for friendship, a relationship or dating, said Shelmidine. "You can put anything in there and everything in there you can think of," said Shelmidine. In an example profile used in his demonstration, Shelmidine showed a profile for a fictitious girl named Christine Lewis. In the profile, Christines most personal details were listed, including her cell phone number, home address and physical description. "If this were open to the general public and there were no restrictions on who could see this profile, for anyone looking to find Christine Lewis, it would not be hard," said Shelmidine. The profile also included an example blog, which is basically an on-line diary, the investigator said. The blog entry talked about how Christine was planning to cheat on a test, going to a party and getting drunk, which is an example of the sort of information investigators have come across in the past, he said. "That's not something you would really want a teacher seeing or a college admissions administrator years down the road, said Shelmidine. Though children may think the information theyve posted is completely gone once theyve deleted it, thats no necessarily the case, Shelmidine said. Children need to know, what they say on-line, stays on-line, he added. "There are Web sites out there that take snapshot images of Web sites and you can go back and view previous versions of any given Web site, said Shelmidine. "So, even they though they took down a blog, a picture or a video it could still remain out there in cyberspace for years and years and years." In addition to social networking sites, instant messaging programs and chat rooms are also on-line applications parents should be aware of, said Shelmidine. An instant message, he explained, is a one-on-one private conversation, different from a chat room which allows multiple on-line users to communicate with each other. Chat rooms are where children are typically first approached by someone they dont know. "This is where a lot of sexual predators hang out, looking for someone age-specific, sex-specific that they're interested in talking to, said Shelmidine. They then draw them into an IM conversation. They make promises, send gifts or offer affection in addition to offering the child attention. These people are experts at manipulation and they have planned and perfected ways to gain your child's trust, he added. Kenneth Lashway, a former high school administrator in Orange County, is a prime example, said Shelmidine. Lashway was convicted on four counts of sodomy and sexual abuse in 1999 for developing a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old girl he met in an Internet chatroom. Lashway was married and had a daughter the same age as the victim, Shelmidine said, and was even a town councilman. "Until he was discovered, he lived the perfect double life," said Shelmidine. The case has similarities to the one built against former Republican assemblyman G. Christopher Ortloff, a high-profile North Country resident arrested in October. In that case, Ortloff was accused of utilizing the Internet to arrange to meet underage girls for sex, though he has yet to return to court or be convicted on the matter. Shelmidiine offered several tips for parents to help keep their children safe. The first, he said, is to put the family computer in a common room. If the child becomes obsessive about being on-line, minimizes or turn off the computer screen when a parent enters the room or becomes withdrawn from friends and family, that could be a sign an on-line relationship has been developed. If he or she receives phone calls from phone numbers unfamiliar to the parents or receives gifts from someone but wont say who, that is all cause for concern, he said. There are also several Internet slang phrases children use when communicating on-line that parents should be aware of, said Shelmidine. Some are harmless like BRB, which stands for be right back, or TTYL, which means talk to you later. However, some phrases like POS for parents over shoulder or LMIRL which means lets meet in real life can be potentially dangerous. You need to set the limits when, where and how they use the Internet, what Web sites they go to, who they communicate with, who they chat with, said Shelmidine. The most important thing to remember is you are your children's Internet access provider. Additional Internet safety tips are available by visiting the state Attorney Generals Web site, www.oag.state.ny.us.

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