FHSU offers pair of innovative courses to help parents and students stay safe on the Internet
08/07/2008

Dennis King, director of the Virtual College at Fort Hays State University, has long been aware, like most people, of various dangers that lurk on the Internet. As he searched online, he discovered that there were lots of good tips for avoiding those dangers, but the tips tended to be piecemeal. Tidbits of good advice were scattered across various sites, but he could find no mother lode of information.

So, King has created two non-credit courses, available this fall, that identify the dangers and show how they can be avoided. Not only will the courses teach a person how to avoid Internet dangers for him or herself, but the courses will place a special emphasis on showing parents how they can monitor their children’s online activities and protect them from predators.

King was motivated by the fact that the Virtual College uses the Internet as one of its main tools for delivering FHSU classes throughout the United States and to countries overseas. But he admitted that he also had a personal motivation: One of his three children has reached the age where she has become an avid user of computers and other communication devices.

"We all think of the Dateline NBC program, 'To Catch a Predator,' as the reason to protect our children from the Internet," King said. "Social networking sites and chat rooms do give sexual predators the tools to do research to entice your child into making bad decisions. However, there are many additional reasons, such as identity theft, pornography, addiction, hate groups and questionable friends. Further, this technology is not limited to the home computer and the Internet. Cell phones with texting and picture capabilities are becoming a huge issue."

King decided two courses were needed.

"Parent’s Guide to Internet Safety: An Overview of Technology and Best Practices" will provide participants with a list of today's technologies, how kids use them, how they can be risky, and the best way to reduce the risk. Participants will be asked to work with their children on projects and create a plan of action for a final project.

"Parent’s Guide to Internet Safety: Tools and Technologies," the second course, will walk participants through today's technology so they can participate in the technology with their children, or, if needed, set up monitoring software. Upon completing the course, a participant will have established a Facebook or My Space account, and be instant messaging or sending text messages to their kids. What participants do in this course will depend on the participants’ needs, and their children's technology uses.

"I wanted to provide the overview and best practices for everyone," King said. "I didn't think the tech savvy participants should be required to create sites, access temp and history files, or be shown how to load software. However, for some this will be a valuable training."
 
King provided some startling statistics to show that Internet dangers are not an urban myth.

According to FamilySafeMedia.com’s Children Internet Pornography Statistics:
- The average age of first Internet exposure to pornography is 11 years old;
- Ninety percent of 8- to 16-year-olds have viewed porn online, most while doing homework;
- Twenty-nine percent of 7- to 17-year-olds reported they would freely give out their home address.

From the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire:
- One in 25 youths (about 4 percent) were victims of "aggressive" sexual solicitations;
- One in 25 youths (about 4 percent) were solicited to take sexual pictures of themselves.

"I have sat through many discussions locally and at national conferences where the lack of organized content for parents was discussed," King said. "Children do receive some education from the schools; however, parents are not engaged in the discussion. These courses attempt to organize all of the information parents need to effectively reduce the risks of today's technology. The courses will outline the risks associated with each of today’s technologies, and best practices for reducing the risk. The courses ask that the parents engage their children to help them complete some of the course activities."

The benefits of the courses will last long after the courses end. When parents complete the courses they will have a plan of action that is appropriate for their children. Perhaps even more importantly, after completing the courses, parents will be placed into a course alumni community where they will be able to review the latest research and keep in touch with everyone who completes the course. The alumni will be able to share experiences and seek advice from each other on how to deal with actual situations.

Finally, King offered some examples of best practices that will be detailed in the courses. “Considering that your child’s brain is the most effective tool available, it is wise to keep the family computer and laptops in a public area of the house,” he said. “Also, sign an agreement or post agreed-upon rules for using the Internet. Remember that not every child is the same. There is no single fix for every child. An at-risk child will need different types of rules and monitoring than others.”

Courses will begin Aug. 25, with new sections starting about every six weeks. To enroll or for more information, visit the Virtual College on the FHSU Web site at:

http://www.fhsu.edu/virtualcollege/degrees/ parentguides.htm


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