Keeping teens safe on-line
EAGLE COUNTY – “My girlfriend broke up with me because of My Space.” “My space got me fired.” We’ve all seen the T-shirts, the news reports, and heard about the young victims that met their predators on the Web site http://www.myspace.com. So how safe are your teens and pre-teens while they are on the Internet?
The Eagle County School District currently uses filters for the schools’ Web access in an attempt to keep out the porn, bomb-making instructions, drug information and pretty much any other site the district deems as inappropriate. “When students are observed circumventing the filter, or any other security protocol, they are given warnings and if it continues, their access to the Internet is revoked,” says Dave Russell, a technology teacher at Eagle Valley High School. But, those tech-savvy Generation Y’ers know their way around a computer, and many use proxy servers to by-pass the filters. Those proxy servers can also be blocked, but new ones pop up everyday and many students find those new ones faster than district officials can blink an eye. “If you have the background knowledge, it’s pretty simple to break a filter,” Eagle Valley sophomore Kyle Werner says.But, he adds, teachers are watching online activity closely. “The teacher would immediately notice something suspicious,” Werner says. “You wouldn’t get away with it for long because the system would immediately notify the administrator.”And then there’s the mighty Sonic Wall. The district pays a yearly fee for the Sonic Wall – a system that is continually updated to identify questionable content. “Within our firewall is the content-filtering system, and then there are several categories that we choose to block or un-block,” says Stan Lake, the district’s network administrator. A district employee can not do what Sonic Wall does, he says. “Out of 64 categories, we block 12 to 14, including violence/hate, intimate appararel/swimsuits, nudism, pornography, weapons, drugs/illegal drugs, gambling, alcohol/tobacco, games and hacking/proxy systems,” says Lake. Some of the categories that can be blocked are more business-related, and don’t apply to schools. For instance, if an employer didn’t want employees to shop on-line during work, the shopping category would be blocked. ‘Shopping’ is allowed in district schools for student research and other reasons. “If a teacher stumbles across a questionable site, we can create a custom block,” Lake says. The site can be blocked within 10 minutes of getting a call from a teacher or administrator, Lake says.
Ahhh…. My Space. My Space and Face Book are blocked from school computers. And some argue that even at home teens need privacy when it comes to social sites, and teens can set their profile to ‘private’ so it can only be viewed by certain people. “Kids often think they’ll never be a victim of Internet predators, so we try to show them that they are not immune,” says Nancy Lindbloom, Battle Mountain High School’s business and computer teacher. “We also discuss the need to keep a clean ‘profile’ on the Internet as prospective employers and colleges are now doing ‘Google searches’ on applicants to see what comes up. The results of these searches can often be very incriminating.” Social sites will be unblocked if a teacher wants to use them for instructional reasons, Lake says. “Social sites are an educational process for everyone,” says Lake. “I’m not against social sites, but we have a responsibility to kids and we have to ask the question, ‘What is the educational value?'”Parental involvement is critical because kids are using the web in ways that adults can’t even imagine, Russell says. “The most important thing is that all parents should know about their kids’ online activity,” Russell says. “I believe that most kids – and not just in our valley – are severely naive as to the potential problems they pose purely by posting their information online.” Lindbloom agrees. “I show a video to students that specifically talks about My Space and other similar Web sites, and how to stay safe on the Internet,” says Lindbloom. The video is also available to parents who advice on making sure their kids are being safe online. And for all of those parents who aren’t ‘tech savvy’? “Get savvy, because your kids are, and you need to understand what your kids are doing online,” Russell says.
The school district recommends the following Web sites for parents who want to know how to keep kids safe online: • http://www.safespacers.com• http://www.safekids.com• http://www.staysafe.orgFor more information on online safety, the school district’s technology department can be reached at 328-6321.Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado