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By Jamie Butow
Regular readers of my column know how much I stress the importance of parental involvement in kids' Internet activities.
When you let your kids go on the Internet without preparing them and without teaching them, it's similar to putting your 8-year-old behind the wheel of a Hummer: Bad things are bound to happen.
You can imagine how my internal sensors went off when a news release about a community meeting on Internet safety landed in my inbox.
And it's being put on by the Girl Scouts! Two of my favorite things: Scouting and Internet safety all rolled into one.
Enter the girls of Troop 4407.
This Thursday they will host a community event that aims to teach folks how to stay safe online.
And not just online as in sitting in front of a computer. Online as in smartphones, tablets, Xboxes, Wii's and other connected devices.
Yes, your kids are online and likely chatting with people they don't know while playing video games.
The class is called "Scouting the Internet" and will have speakers including a special agent from the FBI and Laura Sparks, Bakersfield Police Department community relations specialist.
Troop 4407 Co-Leader Destiny Rojas explained the program was the brainchild of a former leader.
"The goal is to bring awareness about the dangers online and being safe online," Rojas said. "The girls got excited about putting on the program for the community."
There are nine girls ages 13 to 15 in Troop 4407, and four of them will earn their Silver Award for putting on this program.
The Silver Award is the second highest award in Girl Scouts, with the Gold Award equivalent to earning the rank of Eagle in Boy Scouts.
Amanda Grant, 12; Ally Rojas, 13; Taylor Johnson, 14; and Emily Hazelton, 13 make up the team putting on the program.
"They facilitate it and run the whole program," Destiny Rojas said.
This includes everything from designing the handouts to calling and organizing the speakers to introducing them at the event.
"This is their program from beginning to end," Rojas said.
Co-Leader Stacy Grant said it's been great to see the girls grow throughout this project.
"They have really become the leaders," she said.
To earn the Silver Award, the girls can work individually or in a team of up to four girls. The project must include 50 hours of service to the community and be sustainable -- meaning it will continue after the girls have bridged to Senior scouts.
That's where the partnership with the BPD comes in.
This is actually the second event Troop 4407 has hosted. The first in February drew about 35 people with an FBI agent. This week's event adds Sparks from the BPD.
"I know their goal is to have a yearly presentation on this with the next group of girls taking it on," Sparks said.
Sparks is the go-to person at the BPD when it comes to educating the community about online dangers such as cyberbullying. She estimates she's done 30 presentations at schools since February.
"Bullying isn't just hitting and pushing," she said. "We talk a lot about the different techniques people use to bully others online."
Ally Rojas said it's an important project because not many people their age are aware of all the crimes that can be committed online.
Sparks notes that the reality is that by the age of 14, a whopping 77 percent of youths have been contacted by a predator online.
"You really don't know who you're talking to," she said.
I think preventing that happening to my kid is worth two hours this Thursday evening.