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posted: 2/24/2010 12:01 AM

Antioch school officials hoping to educate parents on cybersafety

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By Vincent Pierri

Once considered a novel way to stay connected, Facebook, MySpace and texting are now a way of life for a majority of students.

And with new technology come new threats.

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Threats from Internet predators are common, but newer trouble may come from the kids themselves as they exchange photos and videos that violate pornography laws.

Parents are often unaware or confused by the risks.

Officials in Antioch Elementary District 34 hope their upcoming Cyber Safety seminar will equip kids to chat safely.

The presentation is set for Thursday, Feb. 25 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at Antioch Upper Grade School, 800 Highview Drive.

"A lot of parents know that risks exist, but may not realize how close to home those risks are," said AUGS Assistant Principal Phil Georgia.

The session will be led by Sarah Migas, an Internet Safety Specialist from the office of Attorney General Lisa Madigan. The interactive lesson will focus on cyberbullying, child exploitation and how to safely use social media sites, among other topics.

Migas said she'll focus on how students can be smart about the choices they make.

"We'll be emphasizing the need for students to be aware of who they are engaging with, who they are friending and what kind of information are they sharing," Migas said. "We will also be talking about what kinds of photos and videos are OK to share and which are not."

Results from a 2009 survey taken through the attorney general's office found more than 27 percent of teens, 14 years old and up, said they've been threatened by someone online and nearly 30 percent have felt uncomfortable with a conversation they have had on the Internet. Almost 41 percent said they have received an inappropriate picture of someone online, and more than 43 percent indicated they have said something inappropriate to someone online.

Migas said she gives presentations like this nearly every day of the week to groups across the Chicago area. The attorney general's office has launched a new Web site, ebully411.com that serves as a resource for issues related to Internet safety.

This is the first time District 34 has contracted with an outside agency for a presentation like this, Georgia said. The session is free and open to parents and students in the district.

Georgia is confident parents will benefit from the information.

"We want parents to know what's going on with kids and technology these days," he said. "We want them to know how to monitor and prevent trouble. We also want to give them ideas on how to deal with their children if they find them doing something dangerous."

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