Beaufort News

SC officials encourage Lowcountry grandparents to help protect kids online

Local and state officials are hoping another group -- grandparents -- will join the effort to keep children safe when they're online.

The S.C. Attorney General's Office recently began teaching older caregivers to protect children when they log on to the Internet.

Patti Fowler of the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, a division of the Attorney General's Office, typically addresses students at schools across the state during her online safety talks.

But for the first time last month, her audience was much older. She spoke to a Columbia support group for grandparents raising grandchildren.

Members of a similar support group in Beaufort County also got a taste of the new educational push recently. At a "Grandparents Leading the Way" conference at Beaufort Elementary School in late February, representatives of the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office used materials from the state to share tips about online safety for kids.

Regardless of how much technology they know, grandparents can help spot Internet dangers before children become victims, Fowler said.

Her new target demographic includes people like Debra Polk of Beaufort, a member of the county's Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Support Group.

Polk has 10 grandchildren but no personal computer. Polk said she was aware of issues such as cyberbullying and Internet predators and thought it was important to find out more. She learned that she doesn't have to be up on the latest technology or social-media trends to help keep her grandchildren safe when they're at her house. She just has to be present.

"It's really just about being with them and keeping computers in a more open space where you can supervise," Polk said.

Fowler encourages grandparents to ask their grandchildren to teach them how to use computers and show them the sites they visit and the people they talk to online.

Red flags include a child who suddenly begins going online excessively or becomes reluctant to use the computer at all. Fowler said grandparents should talk to children if they notice they're minimizing a screen or shielding the monitor when they walk into the room.

Attorney General's Office spokesman Mark Powell said the new push is important as more grandparents have become guardians for young children because of the economic downturn. According to a recent fact sheet from the AARP, 13 percent of children under 18 in South Carolina live with grandparents or other relatives who are not their biological parents.

Fowler said her first talk in Columbia was so well-received that she's planning others. She said she will reach out to the Beaufort County School District to offer a similar presentation.

Follow reporter Allison Stice at

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