Teaching Kids to Stay Safe Online

As you can tell from its name, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children pursues one of the most unpleasant jobs on Earth. One small part of how they try to do that job is by making videos to try to educate children about avoiding the hazards that may be present online. 

The organization’s NetSmartz educational curriculum includes two series of videos: “Webville” for preteens and “NS High” for adolescents. The two cover a lot of the same subject matter: you should protect your privacy online, you shouldn’t presume someone is who they say they are, people will try to scam money or other things from you, etc. They also cover some subjects which aren’t precisely related to safety, but are definitely stuff everyone knows, such as don’t let trash talk get out of hand and don’t spend so much time online that real life passes you by.  

Nettie & Webster  

Into the Cloud is a cartoon featuring two young kids, Nettie and Webster, as they try to “save the internet” so they can get back home. The villains are character with names like Meet-Me Mack and Potty-Mouth Pete, while the kids are helped out by good guys with names like Clicky, Router and Gig.  

Currently, NetSmartz has six episodes of Nettie and Webster fun with titles like “TMI,” “Fact or Fake,” and “Checking In” – all designed to teach young children about how to use the internet safely and responsibly, and all are available to parents for free.  

Geared for young children, these don’t come right out and tell their elementary-school target audience things like, “There are adults who want to have sex with children, and you might run into one online” or “You might see porn and it might freak you out.” For some adults this is aimed at preserving a level of innocence, while others might see it as dancing around what dangers actually lie behind some things on the web.   

Keyan & Slick & Mike & Ted  

NSTeens is geared to older children – specifically middle to high school students. Topics for older kids are similar to those for their younger counterparts, but with a more direct approach and fewer curiously-named characters. It’s set in something a lot like the real world with a group of teenagers who go to school, watch movies, have hobbies, hang out, and engage in romantic drama. The issues are still addressed in a sanitized, easy to understand manner.  

Topics for this series include whether or not a new “online girlfriend” is good for you, cleaning up your social media profile, and how to keep your privacy on the web.  

The Real World  

At the bottom of the page of cartoons, there are several videos about real kids who have been abused and exploited through someone on the internet. They include the topics of bad things having happened and the shame that followed. This is backed up with real world data, such as the fact that 65% of males will meet up with someone they meet online, and that 39% of males having an uncomfortable online experience will not tell anyone.  

They tell the tale of Julie – a 13-year-old girl who was fooled by a 56-year-old man named Tom. She spoke to him to retaliate against her parents, and entered into a relationship with him in which she was manipulated into running away. It’s an all-to-real scenario these days.  

An important part of Julie’s story is at the end when the Cyber Tipline information comes up: cybertipline.com or 1-800-843-5678.  

Corvallis Police Department 

These videos were promoted in our area over the Corvallis Police Department’s Facebook page on Sept. 20. CPD wants all Corvallisites to remember that having conversations around internet safety can be hard and sometimes uncomfortable. They urged everyone to “Stay Safe at Home. Stay Safe Online,” and offered up some Department of Justice guidelines to keep all children safe. (CPD_Child_Safety.jpg)  

This series of videos was created by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, with funding from Sprint.   

John M. Burt