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Web-safety lessons from teachers and 12-year-olds

Virginia schools are the first to mandate Internet safety classes. But are kids listening?

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One of the hardest things to do when you're a parent is to teach your kids to be safe. Parents, of course, talk to their kids about safety all the time. But do the youngsters listen? My wife and I often joke that we need to carry tape recorders around so that we can play and replay our safety warnings – maybe then we wouldn't have to endlessly repeat the advice ourselves.

And when you're dealing with Internet safety, it can be even harder. The dangers online don't seem all that dangerous when you're 8 or 9, let alone when you're 15 and you think you're invincible. After all, it's just a computer – no one can hurt you, right? And many parents don't know as much about the Internet as their kids do.

But the danger is there, and the biggest fear online is sexual predators. A 2006 study by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reported that about 13 percent of Internet users ages 10 to 17 received unwanted sexual solicitations. Teens were by far the biggest target – 90 percent of the solicitations. And about 4 percent said they were asked for nude photos of themselves.

So, once again, we turn to our schools to pick up the slack. And in Virginia that means mandatory Internet safety for all students in all grades. Virginia is not the only state doing this; Texas and Illinois are also teaching online safety to students, although as of this school year, Virginia is the only state where it's a mandate.

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