Van Wert High School students work in the new computer lab recently. Students in area schools must sign a release form before utilizing the Internet during the school day.
Van Wert High School students work in the new computer lab recently. Students in area schools must sign a release form before utilizing the Internet during the school day.
BY JILL DEWERT

Times Bulletin Multimedia Editor

jdewert@timesbulletin.com

Most everyone knows that there are predators looking for their next victim on the Internet. From TV shows to magazine and newspaper articles, many parents have been made aware that they need to be tech savvy and check up on their kids' online activity on their home computer.

So maybe you've brushed up your computer skills and have installed a software program to patrol while you're away, but what about access points outside of your home?

Kids can access the Internet almost anywhere these days: at school, the library, friends' houses and all sorts of Wi-Fi hot spots. But your child doesn't have a laptop to access Wi-Fi hot spots? How about that cell phone, Sony PSP, Nintendo DS and other popular mobile devices? With these devices, children can instantly access free, unsecured hot spots and be surfing the web in no time.

Kids can do just about anything on the PSP and Nintendo DS that they can on a home computer. The PSP has abilities to view and share photos, video and text. In addition, up to 16 PSP users can connect to each other within a certain range. The same applies for the Nintendo DS. Whether in a library, airport, or lobby, the respected devices can hunt each other out and instantly connect to chat or interact in multi-player games.

With all these outside opportunities, what can you do? Schools and libraries generally have software programs installed on computer systems to block sites that are not kid-friendly, but it's always important to double-check with officials wherever your child is accessing the Internet.

"There is a form from the state that all students and staff must read and sign that they will use Internet appropriately," said Lincolnview Superintendent Doug Fries. "This is done upon employment of staff and at the beginning of every year for students."

Schools have a handbook and board policy that addresses discipline actions if a student goes against their written agreement and misuses the Internet. Normally, parents or guardians are made aware of the situation. Parents can check the handbook or contact the school to find out what the Internet policy is for their school system.

Software programs are great for home computers, schools, libraries, coffee houses, and other public access points. However, at this point, there are not any offered for mobile devices. It comes down to proper education for your kids. The Internet can be a fantastic tool, if used properly.

"If we don't try to teach people about the dangers online and ways to avoid them, I am afraid that parents will keep their kids offline entirely," said WiredSafety.org Executive Director Parry Aftab in her online Ask Parry! service. "That is a real shame. The Internet is a wonderful tool for everyone, but knowing how to look both ways before crossing the super highway helps."

If open communication is kept between parents and kids, children can surf the Internet wisely, whether it be on their computer at home or on a mobile device at a hot spot.

"Kids and teens who are well-balanced and responsible, especially if they have a trusting relationship with their parents, can navigate these risks safely. Most others can't," continued Aftab. "We want to teach the kids and teens how to use the filter between their ears."