Have Your Children Been Caught in the Net?

Wednesday, November 17th 1999, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

The Federal Bureau Investigation says that at least ten million children in the United States use the Internet. While much of the information on the net is good, some of it's bad - even dangerous. And if you’re a parent, you know your top priority is protecting your children. You can control what movies they see and what T-V programs they watch. However, it's not as easy to protect them when they're on-line.

Basketball is a family activity for the Weinkaufs. They're a close knit family. Mom and dad know where their boys go and what they do. But when it comes to computers, the parents are at a disadvantage "They've had so much exposure to computers,” said the boys’ mother Donna Weinkauf. “They know how to run the computer and load up programs."

It is not unusual for children to know more about computers than their parents. Kids learn computer usage at an early age. Nine- year-old Kent Weinkauf uses computers at school. He says if you're trying to solve math problems and get something wrong, the computer will help you solve it. Computers are also a regular part of class for 12-year-old Derek Weinkauf. The boys are on-line at home with the Internet and e-mail. Their parents are now facing a new challenge. "There's just not enough time to commit to learning", said the boys' father, Kirk Weinkauf. “My wife and I are going to have to learn how to use it."

So, the son is teaching the father. The oldest Weinkauf boy even knows his parent's password. The parents quicky realize that the password gives him complete access to cyberspace including a world of sex and violence.

Mrs. Weinkauf thought it prudent to take the necessary steps to learn about computer usage and joined other parents for an Internet class at the Better Business Bureau. "The Internet is not a bad thing,” said BBB president Rick Brinkley. “America Online is not a bad thing. Any strength carried to an extreme becomes a weakness," he told the parents. To demonstrate, Brinkley created a fictitious name and profile for a 15-year-old boy on his America Online account. First, he checked out the member chat rooms. He joined one of the rooms, asked for pictures and within minutes he had 14 e-mails, all with explicit photos. No credit card was needed. "This is how easily accessible pornography is into your living room," Brinkley told his shocked audience.

The problem is not just chat rooms. Instant messages on the web can mean instant danger. There's no way to know who's sending them. “It could be a pedophile, it could be a stalking situation, it could be a serial killer,” said Brinkley. “You have no idea." Crimes linked to the Internet have occurred in Tulsa. Prosecutors say a man from New Mexico had sex with a 13-year-old Tulsa girl he met on the net. Police arrested him at a Tulsa hotel last year. And as recently as last October, police arrested a man accused of having sex with a 14-year-old Tulsa girl he met in a chat room.

Parents can fight back. The first step is to move the computer. "Get it out of the bedroom,” said Brinkley. “Get the computer to a public area in the house where anyone walking by can see the screen anytime a child is using it." Parents can set up controls through their Internet provider and limit what kids can do and see online. Brinkley also showed the parents group how to track their childrens’ travels in cyberspace. He says parents must commit to learning the technology their kids already know. "I'm going to have to become a computer mom that is on the watch,” said Weinkauf. "I would be humiliated and disgusted for my son or sons to see porn. He might stumble on to it."

The News on Six would like to remind parents that the only real way to monitor everything your children can view online is to sit with your child, and explore the Internet together. We realize this is not always possible, but this method is by far the greatest way to use the Internet as an educational tool for your child.

For more information on parental controls that are available on the Internet, point your browser to: http://www.preferred.com/parental_control.html


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