The Internet can be an educational tool, but students can also find ways to misuse it.
A parent addressed the Tamaqua Area School Board Monday evening about her concerns regarding Web use and the need to warn students and parents of the Internet perils that do exist.
Roxanne Fulton, Walker Township, said her 12-year-old daughter, a sixth-grade student at Tamaqua Area Middle School, attempted to sign up on the MySpace.com Web site and represent herself as someone older.
"She got onto MySpace as a 19-year-old," said Fulton. "Anyone who is an adult can see her page and anything she can put on there."
Fulton said her daughter previously attempted to sign up for MySpace as a 22-year-old. She said she didn't know about her daughter's Web page until Fulton's boyfriend, who she said sells items on eBay, did an Internet search on the daughter by chance and discovered it.
"TV used to be our baby sitter, and now it's computers," said Fulton. "My concern is with children in grades 5-9. I think as they grow older they test the waters. Kids have unlimited resources but because of ignorance, they can get in so much trouble."
Fulton said her daughter was on the honor roll during the first quarter of the year, then her grades began to fall significantly. She tried to limit her daughter's use of computers and electronics, but the MySpace situation occurred while the girl stayed at her father's home.
"Kids have their own computers and access to them, but they are not smart enough to see the dangers," said Fulton.
"You are preaching to the choir," said school board President Larry A. Wittig.
Fulton noted that Tamaqua Area has a DARE program (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) for fifth graders and wondered if something similar could be started for middle school students.
"In my opinion, you are 1,000 percent right in your assessment, but not in your solution," said Wittig, who doesn't feel that DARE is effective with older students. "By the time they get to be 13, 14 and 15 years old, DARE is gone and it's all peer pressure. DARE has not stemmed the use of drugs and alcohol.
"Where we have failed is in the middle school. That is where they try to identify with a peer group."
Wittig added that parents are the best tool for reaching their children, but by the time the students are 13, they have accumulated more knowledge of the Internet than many of their parents will ever know.
"We need to inundate them with information about this at the middle school level, but we have limited resources," said Wittig.
Fulton asked if the district could incorporate such information into its curriculum.
Superintendent Carol Makuta said the technology teacher on the elementary level instructs students on Internet dangers with a "shock value" presentation.
Assistant Superintendent Raymond J. Kinder added that problems such as cyberbullying are also addressed in the middle school curriculum through computer classes and by guidance counselors.
Additionally, the district brings in speakers to address students about drugs, alcohol and other potential perils.
"We had a speaker from the attorney general's office for the students and faculty that gave a horrific presentation," she noted.
Makuta said that parents need more education concerning Internet predators and what ill is lurking for their children.
"They are shocked that this kind of anti-social behavior is out there," mentioned Makuta. "A lot of parents don't know about it unless they see it on TV."
"Maybe we should invite the parents to the presentations," suggested Wittig.
"As parents, we should be on the ball, but at times things can get whisked by the wayside," said Fulton.
While the district has some measures in place, Fulton stressed that repetition is important.
"You have to give it to them constantly," she said.