How can your child be seemingly safe at home, yet still a reachable target for malicious people all over the world? The answer is only a few clicks away.
What may seem like harmless sharing of personal information is far more public than many young computer users, or their parents, realize. That’s the message that Mike Park is striving to get out.
“I don’t try to scare the parents … well, I try a little bit,” he said. “They’ve got to know about it, they’ve got to understand the computer.”
Park, a parishioner of St. Mary’s Southside in Elmira, is co-owner of inCommand Technologies, Inc. in Corning. He gave two lectures on Internet safety May 18 — one for students, one for parents — at Elmira Notre Dame High School, where he teaches a programming class. He also made a presentation for parents May 24 at St. Mary Our Mother School in Horseheads.
“I’ll go anywhere people want me to go talk,” Park said.
He cited concerns over the ever-growing problem of children using the World Wide Web — from accessing adult Web sites on pornography or gambling, to exchanging personal information on chat sites. A leading example is MySpace.com, a wildly popular social networking site in which participants share
Park compared giving out such details on the computer to the way a driver might act during a fit of road rage.
“Why do you do that? Because you know you’re never going to see that person again. So that’s the same feeling on the Internet — ‘I’m never going to see you,'” Park said. “But it’s a false sense of security; it’s not anonymous. It can be tracked down … what you think is freedom of speech and privacy, really isn’t.”
adult predators who pose as youths. Simply type a home phone number into a search engine, he noted, and almost instantly a correlating address and map will pop up. “How hard is it to find me?” Park asked rhetorically.
Park added that it’s not unusual for adults to lure teens into becoming unwitting victims of child pornography, encouraging them to post risque photos of themselves and then entering the pictures onto pornographic sites — with no hope of their being removed. He also noted that the online child-pornography industry is a worldwide phenomenon, with a disturbingly high rate of customers who are “doctors, lawyers, schoolteachers.”
Park acknowledged that it’s difficult to police these sites, because many countries have no Internet laws and also because sites can be rapidly closed down and reopened under new addresses: “I can get a Web site up in 30 minutes.”
He said that sites are going to become more graphic as time goes on: “There’s still a lot of levels to go. We’re at the bottom of the mountain — I think it’s going to get worse before it gets better.” Park stressed that parents need to come up to speed on these realities because a steadily increasing percentage of teenagers are using the World Wide Web as their primary source of communication and information-gathering.
In addition to Park’s recent talks, an Internet safety course will take place Tuesday, June 6, at 7 p.m. at the Hornell Knights of Columbus, 251 Main St. Serving as special guest will be FBI Special Agent Mark Thompson, who will discuss sexual predators; child pornography; victims; warning signs and Myspace.com. The event is sponsored by Hornell’s St. Ann School and Our Lady of the Valley Parish. It is free of charge and open to the public, although organizers noted warn that the presentation’s content is not suitable for children not yet in high school.
The Hornell program is being organized by Penny Dessena, computer teacher at St. Ann’s School. Father Patrick Van Durme, pastor of Our Lady of the Valley, observed that students’ increasing ability and comfort with computers is laudable — but that it also “opens doors that we wish our children to avoid.” He emphasized that parents need to keep closer track of just how many doors are being opened.
“I think it is amazing that parents will monitor their children’s nutritional needs, sports development, and daily activities to keep them safe and healthy, but leave them for hours on end traversing (an online) mine field of what would be considered garbage at the least, and is in many ways dangerous to the extreme,” Father Van Durme remarked.
Park echoed that point: “You could go to Las Vegas and you have a good time, but you wouldn’t send your kids there by yourself, would you? And that’s what you do when you send them to the Internet unsupervised,” he said.
He advised parents to get every home computer out of the privacy of their children’s bedrooms: “The No. 1 rule — get it into a common space.” He added that he looks over the shoulder of his two sons, ages 15 and 12, whenever they are visiting chat rooms. Yet he also pointed out that objectionable Internet sites can be accessed outside the home, so simply blocking such sites on their home computers isn’t enough; it’s important for parents to maintain open dialogue, too.
The May 18, May 24 and June 6 seminars reflect a growing awareness of Internet hazards. On the national level,
Web link that lists Internet social safety tips for parents to share with their children. It can be accessed at