With students starting Christmas vacation, children will probably be spending more time on-line than usual. Adults and students alike are reminded to use the Internet safely.
That's the message brought to students at Beverly-Center by Detective Scott Parks from the Washington County Sheriff's department. He presented a timely program on "Safely Navigating Uncharted Waters" to speak to students about online safety.
How to be safe online? "Guard your personal information! Zip your lip! Keep personal informational personal." Good words of advice for students and adults alike. Students were encouraged to limit their time online. Be with family and friends over the holidays - and any time. There is no substitute for real exercise and sports.
Are the people they talk with online 'Friends or Foes'? Just because it says so online doesn't mean it's true. Students were warned to never schedule off-line meetings with an 'online-only' friend. Above all, Parks said, "Tell your parents." if anything makes the student feel uncomfortable. Webcams should only be used to chat with family and friends. Once something is 'out there', it's there forever. Geolocaters - objects that can identify the real-world geographic location of an object such as a mobile phone or an Internet-connected computer terminal - can also present a danger.
Finally, students were encouraged to be 'scam smart'. Mainly, they were told to beware of free downloads. They should never use peer-to-peer (P2P), YouTube, or Limewire. 'Always check before downloading anything,' was advice presented to all students.
Keep online communication in the family. Don't share anything without permission. "If you don't want people to know about it, don't do it, and especially don't do it online." Families are encouraged to have a 'game plan' for being safe online.
Social Networking was also addressed. Remember to only friend people you know and keep your group of friends small. Be sure your privacy setting is set as 'friends only' and to keep private information private. Photos are nice to post, but remember to ask permission before posting. If a student is 'tagged' in a photo, they can 'untag' themselves and were encouraged to do so.
What about cyberbullying? Bullying can occur via text, facebook, YouTube, Twitter - it's everywhere! If they are a victim of cyberbullying, Parks told students to "Stop, block, and tell" - never participate in any form of cyberbullying.
To wrap-up his program, Parks told his audience they are not alone. There is help if they communicate and cooperate. Students - and adults - were encouraged to kow when to unplug and to remember "A typing war will not work!"
A question and answer period followed Parks' presentation.
As everyone heads out for holiday visits, this little essay credited to Earnestine Schumann-Heink reminds us of what 'home' really is. "A roof to keep out the rain. Four walls to keep out the wind. Floors to keep out the cold. Yes, but home is more than that. It is the laugh of a baby, the song of a mother, the strength of a father. Warmth of living hearts. Light from happy eyes, kindness, loyalty, comradeship.
Home is first school and first church for young ones, where they learn what is right, what is good, and what is kind. Where the go for comfort when they are hurt or sick. Where joy is shared and sorrow eased. Where fathers and mothers are respected and loved. Where children are wanted. Where the simplest food is good enough for kings because it is earned. Where money is not so important as loving kindness. Where even the tea kettle sings from happiness. That is home. God bless it."
May all of you find your 'home' this holiday season. Merry Christmas!
Sue Sampson is a longtime columnist for The Parkersburg News & Sentinel.