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Children's online safety to be discussed at Strongsville High Thursday night

5/5/2014 STRONGSVILLE, Ohio -- Each day, millions of children and teenagers use the Internet to visit websites, use mobile apps or interact through social media. Many might be exposed to unsafe or inappropriate content.

According to the Ohio Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, the best way a parent can protect a child from danger is to be informed about the Internet and aware of their child's usage. "The first line of defense is the parent," said Caroline Wathey, an analyst with the Task Force. "They've got to be informed and they've got to be knowledgeable." The Task Force will visit Strongsville High School Thursday, March 6 at 7:15 p.m. to speak to parents about their children's online safety.

Strongsville parents with children in grades 7 through 12 can register online to attend the free event; the school's guidance department also said parents who do not have children in those grades are welcome to attend, too, if space is available in the school's auditorium.

The presentation is expected to last about one hour and focus on the dangers children face when they use the Internet or mobile apps, and ways parents can protect their children. Wathey says the program will focus on some of the websites and apps that preteens and teenagers frequent. "Kids are really smarter than all of us," she said. "When an app comes out, they know it inside and out before [adults] do." The school's guidance department said the Task Force spoke with 9th and 10th grade students about Internet safety during the fall, and the Task Force will be back at the school next week to speak with 11th and 12th graders.

The Ohio ICAC visits communities and schools frequently, and Wathey said parents should follow the organization's Facebook page to find out when a presentation will be given in their community. Wathey also offered some basic tips for keeping children safe online. Talk to your kids about Internet safety. One of the most important things parents can do to keep their kids safe online is to educate them about potential dangers, Wathey said. "Don't just give them a computer or smartphone and think they'll be all right," she said. "Someone in their class is going to tell them about something [on the Internet], and they're going to go online and look for it." Do your research. Wathey said parents should educate themselves on the websites their children visit, and the apps their children use. Even a simple Google search can lead to a lot of important information, she said. "Instead of grazing through the first few sentences [of an article], read through it and look at the safety features that these apps and websites have," she said.

The Task Force's Facebook page and official website both offer information about Internet safety, and Wathey said parents shouldn't hesitate to friend her organization on Facebook or reach out to ask questions. Monitor your kids' online activity. Wathey says parents can use programs such as K9 Web Protection to monitor what sites their children are visiting on their computers and their phones. The Task Force hands out free "computer cop" discs at its presentations; parents can use those discs to install software that will monitor their kids' online activity and even send them an email if their child is visiting an unsafe or inappropriate website. Be perceptive ... and understanding. Wathey said parents should also be on the lookout for any changes in the kids' behavior when they're offline.

That might be a clue to whether they're experiencing any troubles online, she said. "Just watch your kids. You know them better than anybody," Wathey said. "If you see a change in your child's behavior, ask them about it." She also said noted that parents whose kids are visiting unsafe or inappropriate websites aren't alone. "Don't get mad; they're just going with the flow like everyone else," she said. "A lot of times, it's not their fault. It's just the age we live in."