A new interactive computer program offers New Hampshire kids a way to protect themselves from internet predators.

Gov. Craig Benson, Attorney General Peter Heed, and Education Commissioner Nicholas Donohue on Feb. 18 unveiled the program, known as NetSmartz Workshop, to educate children about the dangers of the internet.

“It feels to the kids like a computer game,” said Jenn Gillins of NetSmartz.

A recent study showed one in five kids has received a sexual solicitation over the internet. One in four was exposed to unwanted pictures of nudity or sexual activity while online last year.

Police will continue to search out internet predators, but Heed said knowledge is the best defense for our children.

The NetSmartz Workshop computer program will be sent to seven schools in the state as part of a pilot program.

“They’re going to help other schools learn how to use the program,” said Gillins, who will train the teachers.

In addition, parents at home and teachers at any school will be able to download the program and related materials from a new web site.

“This is something we need to do as a state,” Benson said. Children often are savvier about using computers than adults but remain naive about the ways people might try to take advantage of them, he said.

The NetSmartz program was developed by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.

The program uses computer animation and games to teach children about internet hazards. Children learn not to give out personal information online and to be wary of strangers they meet in chat rooms. It encourages children to talk to a trusted adult if they encounter something online that upsets them.

The program offers four levels for different ages from kindergarten to high school. For older teens, the program uses personal stories from kids who were victims of predators they met over the internet.

“Hopefully, it’ll be a wake-up call to teenagers,” Gillins said. Teachers and parents can download supplemental activities to reinforce the lessons.

“We hope every community in New Hampshire eventually participates,” said Donohue.

Links:

New Hampshire NetSmartz Workshop
http://www.nheon.org/netsmartz