Buddy Noorlander, 10, knows that the Internet provides an amazing array of information, games, news and ideas. But “it’s so big, it’s dangerous,” he said.
And he is right. The giant digital world does so much to educate and entertain, but kids need to use it carefully. Today is National Cyber Safety Awareness Day, so KidsPost’s Margaret Webb Pressler asked seven fifth-graders from Ramsay Elementary in Alexandria to tell us what they do to stay safe online.
The Internet is full of unknowns, said Powlos Million, 10. If you are talking to someone online, he said, “you don’t know who they are, even if you can see their name and picture.”
Just as cities and suburbs have criminals, so does the online world. To make sure they don’t find you, experts say, never reveal any details about your address, school or even your last name. The Ramsay fifth-graders all said they had heard this warning many times in school and from their parents. “It’s the rare person that doesn’t know that,” said Akira Garcia, 11.
But Natnal Endalkachew, 11, warned that kids can still be fooled. He saw a safety video at school about a girl who gave her personal information to someone online who said he was a celebrity photographer. “The police got involved,” Natnal said. “He was a criminal.”
The kids said a more common problem is stumbling upon pictures or information that is not appropriate for them. Search engines such as Google and sites such as YouTube can give results that are not what kids (or their parents) expect. Even news sites can feature stories and photographs that are upsetting or scary.
“I’ve seen a lot of stuff recently, because of everything with Osama,” said Chandler Millard, referring to the U.S. military operation that killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
Sidrah Hamid, 11, said she makes her Google searches “very, very, very specific” so she doesn’t get results she doesn’t want. Buddy said he’s always careful to spell Internet addresses exactly right, since spelling an address wrong can take you to a bad Web site.
Several Ramsay students said their parents have installed safety filters that limit what the kids can see online. But Sidrah’s family takes it a step further. If she wants to go to a new Web site, she said, “Mom goes on there first.”
Experts also suggest another easy way to stay out of trouble online: Don’t have a computer in your bedroom. The Ramsay kids agreed that when no adults are around, kids are more likely to click on something questionable, either by mistake or out of curiosity.
“It’s safer in the living room or in an area where lots of people go,” Powlos said.
If a kid says something bad about a classmate online, it can be impossible to undo; you can’t just apologize and have it be over. “Kids send things to their friends, and they send them to their friends. It could be around the world overnight,” Buddy said.
So if something bad is said online about a child, even if it’s completely untrue, the damage to the victim can be much greater than what was intended. Comments that were supposed to be private may not stay that way, either.
A better choice is to “be nice in the things you write,” Natnal said. Or, don’t say anything online about someone else that you wouldn’t want them to write about you.