As cyberbullying and Internet crimes garner headlines, officials in New Hampshire hope to help students, teachers and parents understand the potential dangers of the Web.
"I think, with the increasing Internet usage, comes an increased need to educate parents, children and teachers, or educators," Assistant Attorney General Jacqueline Rompre said yesterday.
The attorney general's office is distributing an Internet Safety Guide to every sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grader in the state as part of Child Health Month. The guide offers ways for parents to protect their children online, such as making sure they do not post private information, send inappropriate pictures, or bully others online.
"The new guide does contain information on cyberbullying, as well as the misuse of digital images, which is commonly referred to as 'sexting,'" Rompre said.
The guide also warns students about Internet predators, and discusses the consequences of cyberbullying and sexting.
In some local middle schools, principals see the need for Internet vigilance.
"Certainly, we are always aware and concerned that the students are essentially wired 24 hours a day," said Brad St. Laurent, principal of Woodbury School in Salem. "They can constantly communicate outside the eyes and the ears of their parents or teachers."
He said while cyberbullying has become a talking point in many schools, with a new state law allowing schools to investigate online bullying, students' interactions with non-students also are a concern.
"We're always concerned with their safety, obviously with the age of our students and the unlimited age of people online, and how easy it can be to mask your appearance or identity," St. Laurent said.
He said they reach out to students about Internet safety in class, especially during the family and consumer science course, and through meetings with the guidance department. The school also provides information for parents at certain school events, he said.
At Timberlane Regional Middle School, Principal Michael Hogan said they take a proactive approach to online safety, especially combating cyberbullying.
"Our understanding of this is that schools have to do a better job of addressing bullying issues," he said.
He said the Timberlane School Board has a policy that defines bullying and a systematic approach to handling bullying.
"It's really about giving empowerment to students and raising the level of awareness of bystanders," Hogan said.
He said the school is seeing more reports of cyberbullying in the wake of the new law that made many more people aware of it.
"In the past, we really weren't even aware of a lot of what the cyberworld was saying," he said. "Now, we're responsible for, once we are privy to it, we're responsible for reacting to something that would carry into school."
He said worrying about kids' online safety was something relatively new to many administrators.
"Ten years ago, I wasn't taking cell phones away from kids, either," he said. "Today, kids are growing up in an age where it's very natural for them to use technology."
He said the school is holding an assembly for all grades on Oct. 21 to talk about cyberbullying and online safety. There will be another follow-up meeting for parents to attend. He said there would be plenty of tips for parents, like keeping the computer in a public place in the house, to help minimize the danger of surfing the Web.
"You have to be privy to everything," he said.
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