One story that has been in the news the past couple of weeks concerns a 12-year-old British girl and a 31-year-old ex-U.S. Marine. The two lovers met on the Internet and were the object of a manhunt in Europe.
According to news stories, the youngster went online and told the Lance Corporal that she was a 19-year-old college student. As of the time that I am writing this article, this story appears to be true. She got her passport from her mom, telling her that she needed it to get a permit, and then made plans to meet her boyfriend.
Of course, the Marine is being made out as the predator here. When the girl returned home, her parents indicated that they werent going to punish her. The Marine, on the other hand, was arrested and may face prison time.
What should be learned from this story is that it is your responsibility, as parents, to know what your children are doing while they are on the computer. Yes, there are sexual predators out there looking to meet with 12-year-old girls by saying they are younger than they really are. There are also 12-year-old girls looking to meet 31-year-old men by saying they are much older than they are.
You should instruct your kids to never reveal their real names, addresses, phone numbers and other personal information to anyone they meet on the Internet. Most respectable Web sites will not ask youngsters under 13 for this information; some sites wont allow them access unless they state that they are over a certain age.
The best thing to do is to control what your kids do while they are online. You should place the family computer in the kitchen or family room so you can see what they are doing. If the computer is in their bedroom, you should regulate the amount of time they can be surfing.
There are programs such as Net Nanny that will allow you to control what Web sites they have access to. Many firewall programs will block personal information from being sent as well restrict hours of usage or sites that can be visited.
The important thing to remember is that YOU are the parent. It is YOUR responsibility to know who your kids online friends are. YOU should check their e-mails and AOL Instant Messenger logs to find out who they are communicating with or the sites they are hanging out on. Its not a question of privacy, its a question of safety.
About two months ago, I mentioned a new wireless high-speed Internet service starting up in the Rockford area. Mark Helmer from SignalBlast (www.signalblast.com) says that southeast Rockford should have the service available in the next week or so. Prices start at $50 per month and may require a setup fee, but there is no equipment to purchase. You can reach Mark at 397-1700.
Richard Heller is an independent computer specialist who specializes in repairs, installation, upgrades, technical support, Internet sharing, data recovery and diagnostics. If you have any computer or service-related questions, please send them to The Rock River Times, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 243-1162.