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News >  Idaho

Program coaches kids on Internet safety

Betsy Z. Russell Staff writer

BOISE – The Internet is like a big city, Idaho first lady Patricia Kempthorne told a group of fourth-graders Monday – there are lots of wonderful places to go, but there are also places that are dark and dangerous, and kids need to be cautious.

She launched a kids’ Internet safety program in Idaho Monday that started in Utah and has now spread to at least 47 states, where governors and “first spouses” are spearheading it.

In Washington, first gentleman Mike Gregoire is the leader of the Internet Keep Safe Coalition, promoting a cause his wife, Gov. Christine Gregoire, pushed strongly when she was the state’s attorney general. In Idaho, Patricia Kempthorne shared a proclamation signed by her husband, Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, declaring Monday to be “Internet Safety Day.”

The point of it all: Kids can be victimized by strangers over the Internet, and they can avoid such victimization with a few simple steps:

“ Keep personal information protected. “Never give anyone online your real name, address, phone number, the name of your school or a picture of yourself,” the Internet Keep Safe Coalition advises.

“ Don’t meet anyone in person you’ve found online.

“ Tell a parent or trusted adult “if you see or receive anything on the computer that makes you feel uncomfortable.”

Marty Hand, site manager for Dell Computers in Twin Falls, joined the first lady for the program’s launch, which came on the highly polished floor of the Taft Elementary School gym in Boise, where students sat cross-legged in neat rows, ignoring periodic, loud rings from the school bell.

The Dell executive told the children, “We don’t want the bad things – it gives us all a bad name.”

Idaho state Superintendent of Public Instruction Marilyn Howard said, “You need to learn … to be just as cautious of strangers that are online that are out there trying to contact you by computer, as you are to strangers on the street.”

Kempthorne read the children a storybook to back up the message, about “Faux Paw, the Techno Cat,” and then the kids were shown an animated movie of the same story that was developed by Brigham Young University students and recently won a student Emmy award.

In the story, the computer-savvy cat meets a friend in the “Ball of Yarn Chat Room” who is named “Happy Fluffy Kitty-Face” – or so it seems. But when Faux Paw – violating every rule – decides to meet Fluffy so they can play, Happy Fluffy Kitty-Face turns out to be a huge, dark, snarling and bloodthirsty dog.

Former Utah first lady Jacalyn Leavitt wrote the story, in part because her state had both the highest percentage of homes connected to the Internet and the highest number of children per home – and, correspondingly, the highest rate of children being victimized by online contacts.

Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden said predators can use personal information gathered online to find a child, but, “in most cases in Idaho … the child or teen willingly agreed to meet the predator.”

A University of New Hampshire study in 2001 found that 20 percent of youths receive an online sexual solicitation in a year. Another study in 2002 found that 29 percent of children freely give personal information online when asked.

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