By Don Fielder
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
More than a month after 13-year-old Nicole Lovell of Virginia was murdered by a man she met on the Internet, representatives of a local child center held a workshop to help parents and their kids become better prepared for the dangers that may be lurking in the online world.
The Tweens and Technology event, which was held Friday at Wee Chic on Falls Road in Lutherville-Timonium, was sponsored by the Baltimore City Child Abuse Center and attended by at least 16 parents and children to discuss everything from cyber bulling to internet safety.
“A lot of our cautionary tales fall under that category of wanting to connect,” said Drew Fidler, the policy and program development manager at the Baltimore City abuse center. “Online provides that opportunity because you can be whoever you want to be.”
Fidler and Miriam Kahn, a training specialist with the Baltimore City abuse center, explained the cause and effect of online interaction.
“You can get a tattoo and you can remove it, but there can still be scars,” Kahn said. “We have to be really careful with what we’re posting.”
Fidler told the children that there are potentially big risks involved when using devices like smartphones to post pictures on the Internet.
“The risk is still very real,” Fidler said. “It doesn’t matter what device you’re using, people still have access to you. Snapchat is a pretty common app. Just because you’re taking a Snapchat doesn’t mean it’s going away.”
The families received two post-it notes from the organizers of the event. On the first, they were asked to share their feelings and worries about using the Internet. On the other post-it notes, the children and parents wrote down what they wanted each other to know about their Internet use.
“Sometimes it can be hard being honest with your parents,” Fidler said.
Towards the end of the meeting, Fidler and Kahn had the families sign an Internet safety agreement in which the parents and children agreed on common ground between allowing the child privacy while monitoring his or her safety.
“I think it’s really important that the kid and parent put this together,” Fidler said. “What are the rules and boundaries and what is fair of both sides.”
“We want to respect our kids’ privacy, but we also want a healthy amount of monitoring,” Kahn added. “Creating that healthy balance can be tough.”
The agreement covers inappropriate content, online privacy, unwanted requests cyberbullying and device usage. The contract is used so that once the meeting concludes, the families can still see eye-to-eye on the importance of internet safety, the organizers said.
“We’re the conversation prepper,” Fidler said. “We’re starting the conversation. We want you to continue this at home. It’s a two-way street.”
This meeting came several weeks after Lovell was killed over an internet relationship involving her and a male. Lovell met her boyfriend online.
“They could be posing as a 13-year-old,” Fidler said. “This is an open playground.”
Fidler and Kahn said they hope to continue discussing the importance for parents and children in the awareness of internet safety.
“We’re hoping to do this workshop more and more,” Kahn said.