(Photo by Tim Jaynes, Staff)
SIKESTON -- As students settle into their classrooms over the next few weeks, several of them will take on class projects and homework that will require a little research.
For many of them, the Internet will be a main source of information, and one thing parents need to make sure their children aren't putting themselves in any danger while working online.
Capt. Jerry Bledsoe of the Scott County Sheriff's Department admitted area officers haven't worked that many cases involving Internet dangers, but he did say there is a problem with pedophiles trying to pick up kids online.
"The No. 1 thing parents can do is to not let their children have a computer in their bedroom, but rather in a public place in the house so you can get a quick glance at the screen," said Bledsoe, who has participated in several specific investigative courses dealing with Internet crime and safety.
Parents need to pay close attention to their children's activity on the Internet, Bledsoe warned. They could be in their room supposed to be doing homework, but wind up on a chat line, where bad things can happen, he said.
"A lot of kids get on chat lines and talk to other kids, but you should stop and question your kids. Children are more trusting. Many people butt in on chat lines and ask for phone numbers," said Bledsoe, adding that he's experienced the quick information relay first hand in his household.
Although it turned out to be harmless, Bledsoe's stepson got on a chatline one time and gave their phone number to a young lady in Florida, who ended up calling their house. She turned out to be a non pedophile-type person, but it's that easy to come in contact with someone via the Internet, he explained.
"You can find just about anything on the Internet. Some of it is bad, but the vast majority of it is good stuff," noted Terry Schaefer, technology director for Sikeston Public Schools.
For example if a child needs to research ancient Rome, they can find pictures, information and practically go to a museum, Schaefer said. So parents just need to encourage their children to go to the good stuff, he advised.
"Parents want to give their kids privacy, but they don't want them to be in danger," Schaefer said. "It takes a little trust between parents and children because you want to keep the lines of communication open. It's just simple logic."
School officials also keep an eye on their students when they use the Internet at school, Schaefer said.
Sikeston Public Schools has complied with the Child Internet Protection Act (CIPA) for the last couple of years and have had an Internet filter in place for almost five years, Schaefer said.
"We use a filter through the main Internet access to block the students from viewing certain Web sites. If for some reason, students would get to a site they're not supposed to be on, a message pops up saying it's an unacceptable site and intercepts with that screen," Schaefer explained.
Of course no matter how good of a filter a person has, it can't catch everything, Schaefer pointed out, which is why the best deterrent to Internet crime in the classroom is the teacher.
"It's the teacher who is observing what the students are doing. Teachers can use seating charts and arrange the room so they computer monitors are visible. There's a lot they can do," Schaefer said.
Kids should follow the same guidelines on the Internet as they would with strangers, Bledsoe recommended. They should never tell their full name or give their geographical location, he said.
Bledsoe said there isn't really a specific age group that is targeted by Internet danger. "If they can and are able to get on the Internet, then it's time to talk and tell to use the same rules," he said.
Parents wanting to learn more about using computers and the Internet should consider taking evening classes, Schaefer recommended. They can learn how to view what sites their children have viewed and many other things, he said.
Filters and software programs are available for home use, but most Internet browsers offer parental sites to exercise control of Internet use, Schaefer said.
Bledsoe said he welcomes calls from unsure parents concerning suspicions with their child's online use.
"Even if it turns out to be nothing," Bledsoe assured, "I'd rather check into it than wait until it's too late."