Parents used to warn their kids not to talk to the stranger in the trench coat in the park. But now that stranger can enter your child’s bedroom through a wire and parents have no idea what that stranger is telling their children.
This is the problem of the Internet, according to Philip Rosenthal, creator of the Computer Crime Unit for the Rockland County Sheriff’s Department. He will address Cong. Adas Israel in Passaic on May 7 as part of an Orthodox Union-sponsored program called "Raising Children in a Secular Society: Controlling the Internet Before it Controls Us."
"I can’t think of a more timely topic for parents to protect their children," Rosenthal told this newspaper. "Parents have a definite problem and responsibility to protect their kids."
Rosenthal’s first and most important piece of advice to parents, he said, is that they should take the computer out of their child’s bedroom. They should keep it in a public place where they can see what their kids are doing all the time. If the kids use MySpace.com or other similar Websites on which they can post personal information, parents should be wary of what information their children put online.
"A lot of parents think they can put filters on their computers and that will keep kids from getting in trouble. [But] kids will use their expertise to bypass the filter," Rosenthal said.
It is very important that parents explain to their children the reasoning behind the rules, as well, to keep the child from feeling an unnecessary invasion of privacy.
"I’m not trying to be nosey, I don’t care what you’re talking to your friends about, but I care when you’re talking to strangers and talking about things that are inappropriate," Rosenthal offered as a way for parents to approach the subject. "It’s responsibility. It’s not like trying to read somebody’s diary."
The program is part of the OU’s Positive Jewish Parenting program, and it is sponsored with the Youth Education Committee of Adas Israel and Jewish Family Service of the Jewish Federation of Greater Passaic-Clifton.
"We want parents to feel confident in their assertion of values and values they uphold and exercise so that children don’t wander off to territory where they can get in big trouble," said Carl Heit, chair of Adas Israel’s youth and education committee.
The committee selected the topic from a list the OU offered. The OU then arranged for the speaker and organized the program.
"We selected [the subject] thinking it was contemporary and important," Heit said. While he is not aware of any specific problems with Internet abuse in the community, the education committee recognized that these problems do exist and could be a potential risk.
"We’re trying to make people conscious of the fact that it could be a problem and it has been a problem across the board. We want to raise people’s consciousness about it," he said.
"Internet safety is a very popular topic," said Frank Buchweitz, the OU’s director of community services and special projects, and the event’s coordinator. "The Internet can be a blessing and it can be a source of anguish for parents if it’s not understood in its proper context and used correctly."
Rosenthal will speak at Adas Israel May 7 from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. The program is geared toward adults but teenagers are invited as well. Jewish Family Service will also offer information for follow-up sessions after the talk.