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Classes give parents monitor computer use

Emiko Sota needed to do some research on her home computer for a school assignment on white tigers.

Her mother instructed the fifth-grader to leave the room. Then she started to search the Internet.

"You'd think that white tigers would be innocent," said Mary Sota. "But you wouldn't believe the stuff that came up (on the monitor)."

Eventually Mrs. Sota was able to find what she needed and printed the information off so her daughter could complete her assignment.

"I feel like I'm doing her research for her (Emiko) and I don't feel right about that," she said. "But I'm also scared to let her search the Internet on her own."

That's why Sota, a widowed mother of two, attended a Parent Computer Training Program offered at her children's school.

These workshops, cropping up in schools throughout Pasco County, are a useful tool for those feeling a little removed from the dot.com world.

It doesn't matter how innocent the search word is, said Penny Crowe, the technology specialist at Mary Giella Elementary School who ran the parent workshop.

"Kids can end up in all sorts of inappropriate places," Crow said. "Most of the time they are searching for something innocent and stumble upon a pornographic or hate site. I was looking for butterfly pictures for one of the teachers and thought I had found a good site. The only thing on that site that had to do with butterflies was a tattoo. "

Still, the Internet can be a boon to parents who no longer have to make those late night trips to the library because their child just informed them about the report on the solar system that is due tomorrow.

Crowe realizes that computer technology can be overwhelming for an older generation that didn't grow up with it. "You have to learn a whole new language," Crowe said.

But this is no time to be skittish, especially with the widening computer technology gap between parents and kids. "Our kids know more than we do," Crowe said."Parents have to wonder, "how do we keep up with that?' "

By setting guidelines, installing control filters and _ whether they feel comfortable or not _ becoming Internet savvy.

Those feeling completely clueless should consider taking a beginning computer course. Many are offered for free at local libraries or for a fee through adult education classes at schools throughout the county.

Once they know the basics, Crowe said, "parents should explore when their kids aren't around so they can become familiar with the Internet."

No doubt after doing a little surfing, parents will want to buy filtering software designed to keep their kids out of those inappropriate sites.

Even with the filters, Crowe said, "I wouldn't completely trust it."

Providing children with child-friendly search engines is a good idea, said Crowe who recommends www.onekey.com, www.ajkids.com and www.yahooligans.com.

Other guidelines include limiting children's online access to when parents are home and keeping the computer in a central location where parents can see where their kids are surfing. "The worst place to keep a computer is behind closed doors in a child's bedroom," Crowe said.

Chat rooms, whether child-friendly or not, can be a dangerous place for children who have no idea whether the "peer" they are chatting with is really a 10-year-old with similar interests or a middle-aged pedophile. Crowe advises a sit-down with children to explain not to give out personal information _ address, phone numbers, credit card numbers _ and to not meet anyone they've chatted with online in person without an adult present.

Youngsters should also know what to do when they are confronted by inappropriate material. "At school we tell our students to just turn the monitor off and tell an adult. Then we look at it and if necessary, report it."

NOTE: Those wanting more internet safety information can go to: http://www.fbi.gov/publi cations/pguide/pguidee.htm. Helpful information and an Internet Safety Quiz for adults is also available at www.missingkids.com.

Those who suspect someone is stalking children online should report that to local law enforcement and the Cyber Tip Line at www.cybertipline.com or call the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, toll-free, (800) 843-5678.

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