Workshop provides parents with tips for keeping kids safe online

With kids as young as 6 having access to iPhones and iPads, watching what children do online is getting more complicated.

Even Top of the World fifth-graders are using the photo app Instagram, according to Principal Ron LaMotte.

On June 5, parents gathered in the Laguna Beach High School library to hear tips on how to protect their kids online.

Parents may not be there 24/7 to observe their kids' online activity, so the message was simple: communicate.

Jackie Parker, who works in technology services for the Laguna Beach Unified School District, and Asst. Principal Bob Billinger drilled the importance of explaining the lasting effects of online publishing and how actions such as nasty messages or inappropriate photos could lead to criminal charges. On a smaller scale, inappropriate photos and posts online can affect a person's chances of getting a job or attending college.

Asking if someone has a Facebook is akin to asking if someone has a phone nowadays. Parker showed parents how to incorporate more transparency into their child's online interactions.

She urged parents to not only have their children's passwords handy, but to use Facebook's notification system, which alerts you via text or email if an update has been made to a Facebook page. She also showed the parents how to change privacy settings and make sure their child's information is not public.

She noted that kids use "hook-up" websites to meet other kids, where they could potentially meet adults posing as children. Such sites include Look Up, Hook Up and Hot Or Not.

According to statistics released by the National Assessment Center, distributed by the school district, 22% of kids admitted to meeting someone face-to-face who they'd first met online. Other stats included 79% of kids who posted pictures on social media sites and 29% who revealed their last names on such sites.

Parker went through the steps to set up a Google alert, by visiting google.com/alert, and to set up a notification for when new information on your child is posted to the web.

Parker showed a video called "Soccer Girl," which is on the district's Haiku page. The video showed a set-up situation where parents wanted to show their daughter how easy it was to obtain personal information through chatting online.

By finding out their daughter's interests, such as soccer, and her games and school colors, a predator was easily able to figure out where she'd be practicing and eventually follow her home. In the video, a police officer posed as a teenage boy to show the daughter the potential for a dangerous situation.

Darcy Crawford, a mother of three who recently moved to Laguna from Washington, said she remembered in her previous neighborhood that a young boy had met someone through a game he played on an iPhone. While it is easy to set parental notifications on computers, iPads and iPhones don't have the same options. She called the soccer girl video "eye-opening."

Lynn Gregory, who has sons at the middle school and high school, said she wasn't surprised by the information.

"I don't want to have my head in the sand, " she said. "Open communication is the No.1 thing."

PTA President Kathleen Fay attended the meeting and said she was going to go home and read up. Not only did she think it was important to know for protection purposes, she said, but also to keep up with rapidly changing technology.

Although the school can't monitor what the student does outside of instructional hours, it does become a concern if issues such as cyber-bullying trickle over into their school life.

"It is important that parents come to these so we can team up on this issue," Billinger said.

All the documents from the workshop are available online at the district's Haiku page.

Joanna.clay@latimes.com

Twitter: @joannaclay

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