Internet safety focus of annual teen event

April 18, 2011

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Cindy Espinoza of Leatherwood said one of her two school-aged daughters received a message on a social network that “freaked her out.”

Besides being inappropriate, the message contained something that contaminated the computer, and she had to buy another one, Espinoza said. Now, her daughter’s page on the social network site is locked, she said.

Espinoza was one of three parents who attended a workshop on Internet and social networking safety at the eighth annual Positive Choices Youth Rally and Teen Maze on Friday at Patrick Henry Community College.

Katie Connelly said about 450 people attended the event. She was its coordinator and is community organizer for prevention at Piedmont Community Services.

Espinoza has two daughters, both in middle school. One of them was told by friends that her picture was on the Internet, and after checking, the girl’s picture and the name of the school she attends appeared, apparently originating from a media report about a community event.

Melany Stowe, a spokesman for Henry County Schools, said parents who do not want their children to be photographed need to submit letters to the school system.

Stowe also said that the social networking site Espinoza was talking about has an option to prevent anyone from “tagging,” or identifying, people in photographs. Stowe and Marshall Farley said that sometimes people misidentify people in Internet photos. Farley, of HEY! (Helping Engage Youth), is retired from the Martinsville Police Department.

Espinoza also said one of her daughters did an Internet search on “Jesus,” and images of “half-naked guys popped up.”

Espinoza said she sometimes sits with her daughters when they’re using the Internet because inappropriate material may come up, and she has a list of Internet sites she has approved that her daughters can visit. They have to get her permission before they can visit sites not on the list, she said.

Espinoza and Marcie Seay of Martinsville complained of being billed for services or products they didn’t order on the Internet, and sometimes there were recurring charges.

Farley said legally, if a “third-party” biller tells the Internet-service provider that you owe a certain amount, the Internet service provider has to bill you, and it is your responsibility to prove you don’t owe it.

Taylor Robertson, a senior at Bassett High School, led the discussion. Among her Internet safety tips were: Don’t use a suggestive name. Remember that photos posted on the Internet are there forever, even if they have been deleted. Keep your password secret. Employers read what people put on their social network pages, and what you write could potentially jeopardize employment.

A booklet distributed at the meeting gave tips. They include:

• Do not give out any personal information on the Internet. This includes your name, address, phone number or school name.

• Do not send a photo of yourself to anyone you meet on the Internet.

• Never make plans to meet with anyone you meet on the Internet without talking to your parents first.

• If you read or see anything on the Internet that makes you feel uncomfortable, tell an adult immediately.

• Remember that people on the Internet may not be who they say they are.

• Before downloading anything on the Internet, get an adult’s permission.

• Be a good online citizen. Do not do anything that may hurt another person’s feelings or is against the law.

• Do not open any email messages from people you do not know.

The biggest attraction at the event was a teen maze, in which area middle and high school students navigated their ways by drawing consequence cards or spinning wheels that indicated choices for them. After receiving a choice, a student followed the maze path to discover some of the realities that choice might bring.

For instance, in the house party group, the consequence of “sexting/inappropriate photos” was “go to court”; the consequences of having unprotected sex resulting in a pregnancy were “go to home sweet home and tell parents — go to Labor and Delivery — go to starting place”; and the consequences for gang activity/related fight were “go to ER for treatment — go to court.”

The rally opened with dancing by local youths and nationally touring break dancer Patrick Perez. An after-party followed the maze.

Malik Hughes, P.J. Hairston and T.C. Robinson, students at Fieldale-Collinsville Middle School, said they went to the event to have fun, hang out and learn.

T.C. said Internet safety is a concern. “If you don’t control your privacy settings, anybody can find you,” he said.

Henry County Sheriff Lane Perry said he hopes the event will help instill in young people that choices have consequences. He wants young people to have a good start in life, he said.

Jim Tobin, executive director of Piedmont Community Services, said of the event: “Without preaching to kids, it’s a good learning opportunity.”

Many businesses, organizations and agencies partnered with CHILL (Communities Helping Improve Local Lives) Youth Task Force, HEY! Community Coalition and the Drug Task Force in putting on the event.


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