MONROE - The broadband Internet highway is full of bandits and bad guys. And then there are the speed bumps posed by e-mail viruses and spam.
But a new form of highway patrol is on duty, offering lessons in Internet safety for children who may be most vulnerable to those threats.
Christiancy Elementary School in Monroe last week was the site of a promotion tour offered by telecommunications giant AT&T.
The lesson plan taught by Texans Burke Wilson and Jill Pawelek even included an Internet-directed safety mantra the children are taught: "Never give out private information."
Last week Christiancy and its 262 students were among 20 sites nationwide, including Toledo, who participated in the AT&T Hometown Tour.
"That means your school is very, very cool," Mr. Burke told the students.
But if you think kindergarten children are too young for such things, consider that nearly every hand among the 112 students - kindergarten through second grade - shot into the air when Instructor Wilson asked about recent Internet usage.
Mr. Wilson said kindergarten-age children are exposed to technology much earlier than previous generations, and safety issues on the Internet must be addressed early on.
Wednesday morning's class had nine volunteers - Kailee Gillean, Hannah Timko, Jack Stewart, Brendan Pocs, Thomas Leidel, Emma Kimble, Michael Kaiser, Hanna Revels, and Connor Tullis - dressed in costumes to help Mr. Wilson or "Captain Broadband" play an interactive game of trying to nab an Internet villain who tries to steal personal information from them.
"Never give out private information," the children shouted in unison when questioned on how to deal with the bandit.
Ms. Pawelek told the children to treat the Internet like any other public place such as a mall or theater and tell an adult if a stranger approaches.
"Never let anyone know your identity," she warned.
Mr. Wilson added another move to take if they visit a questionable Web site or an e-mail arrives asking for their photo or other information:
"Log off and tell an adult," he told them.
He told the children that if they have an e-mail account, to delete unfamiliar e-mails and attachments.
Older students at Christiancy were given more detailed safety precautions, including how to limit details in social networking such as MySpace, instant messaging, and music downloading.
Yvette Pugh, director of external affairs for AT&T in Detroit, said the telecommunications giant feels an obligation to teach Internet users young and old about the importance of safety.
"We think this is something that's important because we offer this [Internet] service and for the children so they can navigate the Internet safely," she said. "That's one of our responsibilities as a corporate citizen."
Ms. Pugh said the telephone company chose Monroe for its tour because AT&T was rolling out high-speed Internet services there.
Mr. Burke pointed to a study that showed 90 percent of youths in the 1 to 17 age range have an e-mail account.
The popularity of social networking sites online has increased the opportunities for them to be approached by strangers they'll never see but who may ask them for personal information they shouldn't divulge.
Another study, Mr. Burke said, showed that 14 percent of teen users of Internet network sites have arranged to meet a person face to face after exchanging e-mails. "You have no idea of who you are meeting," he said.
The hometown tour also visited the YMCA at 8115 Monclova Road near Maumee, the Boys & Girls Club of Toledo at 2250 North Detroit, and at the Monroe Center to a group of senior citizens.
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