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A lesson in Internet seediness for kids, parents
By Kathryn Reed
Sixteen-year-old Jane likes to party, hang with friends – she has hundreds of them on MySpace – and isn’t wearing much in her pictures. She identifies herself and her friends by first names. In chat rooms she flirts with just about anyone. She lives and works here, and isn’t hesitant to describe what she has on or the things she’s in to.
Is this your daughter?
Or is Jane an undercover cop trying to lure would-be predators?
The description is fictitious, but could be real. People reveal more about themselves than they realize in online profiles and chat rooms. They become easy prey.
Parents and students got a dose of reality earlier this school year when El Dorado County sheriff’s Detective Dave Lawrence told them about the underbelly of the Internet.
A search of MySpace showed 47 pages and 1,832 people with the ZIP code 91650. Include the other South Shore postal codes and the numbers just keep climbing. Some are businesses, some are individuals, some are tasteful, some are raunchy.
MySpace isn’t the only online venue for all ages to brag, share info with friends and let it all hang out. The letting it all hang out part is what adults are worried about.
Even private pages are easy to access, warns the detective. Everything online is public. If a webpage is deleted, someone else may have saved it. It’s never really gone.
Parents were told that their kids should literally know all the “friends” listed on their page – as should the child.
St. Theresa School Principal Danette Winslow admitted one of her son’s had 238 “friends” listed at one time. She has found 12-year-old students with their photos online saying they are 16. Alumni, former parents – they are a click away for the world to see.
Students at her school were given a primer on the dos and don’ts of the Internet, while parents had their own session.
“I think kids are more educated about computers than we are. I wanted to get a little education about what’s out there,” said parent Jeff Valeny.
It was obvious from questions by different parents that they have never text messaged, been in a chat room and don’t know how to begin an instant message. They didn’t realize how easy it is for strangers to interact with their children.
“Many problems students have begin at MySpace. Ask your child what they are spending time on so you have better control,” JoAnn Hernandez, South Tahoe Middle School counselor told a group of parents in March. She said MySpace can foster bitterness toward individuals and groups of kids and that it becomes a type of bullying.
Detective Lawrence said at the seventh-grade level youths start exploring the Internet more. He said 71 percent of parents stop monitoring Internet usage when kids hit 14, and 20 percent of parents never monitor what’s on the screen.
Lawrence prowls around online as a girl with the intent of snaring bad guys.
“They have to step over the line before we can do something,” he said. The arrest in April 2007 of Raymond Benjamin Pedroza and subsequent 71-month prison sentence is an example of crossing the line. The Las Vegas man came to South Lake Tahoe to meet and have sex with who he thought was a 13-year-old girl. Pedroza was tracked down via Internet chat rooms and MySpace.