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Keeping kids safe online.

No doubt you've visited Yahoo, Google and eBay, but have you been to MySpace? MySpace.com, ranked fifth among the most-visited English language Web sites, is a social networking site where 36 million users, mostly teens and young adults, write blog (online diary) entries, post profiles, make friends and communicate with each other. For most of these users, sites like MySpace are a safe enough place to 'hang out.' But several recent reports of attacks, sexual assaults and stalking young peopie through their MySpace profiles have raised alarms about the site.

Studies also have documented online dangers. A 2000 survey by the Crimes Against Children Resource Center at the University of New Hampshire found that about one in five youths received a sexual solicitation or approach over the Internet in the preceding year. In almost half the incidents, the young people did not tell anyone about it. A 2005 review of teen blogs by a Northwestern University researcher found that nearly 70 percent used their real names online and 61 percent gave out their contact information.

Lawmakers in at least 39 states in recent years have passed laws that specifically target predators who lure or solicit minors online for criminal purposes. Twenty-one states have laws requiring school boards or public libraries to adopt Internet use policies or install filters to prevent minors from gaining access to sexually explicit, obscene or harmful materials.

And although these laws help in prosecuting online predators and limiting access to harmful material, kids are still going online in large numbers and are likely to encounter a variety of individuals and social situations-good and bad.

"The communicative and social skills [that teens and Gen Yers] are developing during these formative years may, in fact, prove to be practical tools that will serve them well in the future," says Mary Madden, co-author of a 2005 paper by the Pew Internet and American Life project.

Virginia has passed a new law to make sure that kids learn the skills and have the tools to deal with dangerous encounters on the Internet. Sponsored by Delegate William H. Fralin Jr., it requires schools to teach Internet safety. The program will teach students about techniques strangers use to solicit personal information from kids or to listen in unseen chat rooms, says Fralin. "It's important to teach children early and often about the potential danger from online sexual predators."
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Title Annotation:TECHNOLOGY
Publication:State Legislatures
Date:May 1, 2006
Words:397
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