Students urged to follow safety rules while online
BY LARRY HLAVENKA JR.
HOWELL - The Internet and Web sites like MySpace are not just places for friends to gather - they are ready-made havens for predators - and Art Wolinsky wants children across the country to know that fact.
On Oct. 12 at Howell Middle School North, Squankum-Yellowbrook Road, Wolinsky and members of WiredSafety.org, along with members of TeenAngels.org, visited with hundreds of pupils to discuss the dangers of the Internet.
"I'm not going to talk to a brick wall and tell you not to share anything, but you have to be careful of what and who you share with," Wolinsky told the pupils in two separate assemblies divided by grade level.
Wolinsky, a former technology teacher and Internet consultant, has worked as a presenter over the past year, but he has been involved with WiredSafety.org since 1995. The group's founder, Parry Aftab, leads the world's largest teen help organization, he said. All of its members are volunteers.
TeenAngels.org is a wing of the organization. These individuals are teenagers who serve as advocates for their peers, tell their own stories of Internet-based problems or just serve as a helping hand.
Wolinsky brought seven members of the Holmdel High School chapter of TeenAngels.org to Howell to discuss the dangers of the Internet.
"You think you're safe, but you're not," one of the Teen Angels said.
Wolinsky told the students the story of Kacie Rene Woody, a 13-year-old girl who was raped and killed by a 47-year-old man she initially met on-line. The man was posing as a teenager. He killed himself after a standoff with Arkansas police.
The harrowing tale resonated with the pupils, as Wolinsky continued.
"We know how important [the Internet] is to you," he said. "But what's wrong with MySpace? You are going to give me answers, but they aren't the right answers. It's a tool, just like any other tool, but it's how the tool is used that is a problem."
Wolinsky cited a survey which indicated that 80 percent of students think they are safe on-line, but only 20 percent think their friends are safe on-line.
Those results tell Wolinsky children realize there are problems, but need more information provided to themselves and their peers.
"When you are on-line, you are doing the same things," he said. "Chances are ... you are probably a lot less safe than you think you are."
As a whole, Wolinsky said, the Internet can be used well for any number of activities and most things are positive. However, he warned, "Everything you put on-line stays on-line forever. It doesn't take much. If you put up three pieces of information people can steal your identity, you can lose your house, all kinds of things."
He told the pupils to remain cognizant of the information they reveal - and to stop short of posting names, ages or locations.
"Sometimes putting up a false age isn't such a bad thing," he said. "If you say you are between 14 and 15, the automatic safety features of MySpace kick in and make your profile private." He urged the pupils to check their privacy settings when they got home.
Wolinsky said the children should keep their e-mail addresses private if for no other reason than to avoid "spaminators" and their solicitation.
He then stressed one of the program's most critical points - "A stranger is anyone you don't know face-to-face and you never meet face-to-face with a stranger, even if you have been talking to them for two years."
Wolinsky showed examples of phony MySpace pages which predators and law enforcement agents alike use for their own benefit.
The group also discussed cyber-bullying, which is a growing and evolving problem.
"It's not just about predators doing bad things to kids," Wolinsky said. "We don't always think about protecting kids from other kids. When you laugh at someone at the expense of them, it is not funny, that is the worst kind of bullying. I know what it was like to be picked on, but I could go home and be safe at home. You can't do that today."
Wolinsky urged pupils to practice the "stop, block (the person) and tell (an adult)" method if anyone abuses them on-line.
For more information about either of the organizations, visit their Web sites at www.wiredsafety.org or www.teenangels.org.