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Local News

Incident Near Goleta Valley Junior High Highlights New Era of Stranger Danger

With the rise of online communication and social networking, some say it has become more important for parents to remain vigilant

Years ago, many parents were content while their kids would play in the streets and walk to and from school alone. But in today’s information age, that lax approach has largely vanished.

“It’s not the world we grew up in when we were kids and parents would let their kids play outside until it’s dark and know you were with your friends but not require specific details we require now,” said Valerie Kushnerov, who serves on the Goleta Union school board. “Our parents were either ignorant or the world was a safer place.”

With the rise of online communication and social networking, personal information is readily available and kids are vulnerable, said Barbara Keyani, the Santa Barbara School District’s coordinator of administrative services.

“Times have changed. We have much more information readily at hand, and there are problems that take place in society,” she said. “Times were different then.”

Last week, a 13-year-old Goleta Valley Junior High School student was accosted by a white-haired stranger on Stow Canyon Road, the girl’s mother told Noozhawk. While the girl did run away, Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Deputy Greg Sorenson said it’s best to be loud and attract attention while doing so.

“Kids are generally taught to listen and obey their elders, but this is a unique situation,” he said. “They need to be taught that there are some adults who are bad and need to be assertive and say no to those adults and be relatively loud and attract attention.”

Sorenson said it’s also very important that parents know what route and time their kids are taking so law enforcement can be more informed in the worse-case scenario.

“Generally people feel safe in this area, but I make sure my kids are with friends or an adult, what time they are coming home and what route they are taking home,” he said.

Kushnerov said she used a code word with her kids, who would obey an adult only if they knew the password. But she said that when it comes down to it, kids are the safest when they feel comfortable having open and honest conversations with their parents.

“They need to know they can trust you and talk to you about everything,” Keyani said. “You try to be fair and objective as you can. Sometimes they will get answers they don’t want to hear, but what they take away is know they can trust you.”

Parents also need to realize that children don’t understand the consequences of online conversations; they don’t often realize the people they are talking to are strangers and aren’t who they seem, said Kathy Boomer, Goleta Union School District superintendent.

“I think parents have to remind themselves that their children are equally at danger on the computer as they are in the neighborhood,” she said.

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children offers these tips on its Web site:

» Travel with a group of friends when riding your bike or walking to or from school or other destinations.

» If a stranger offers you a ride somewhere, say no and run away. Adults should define “stranger” and give safety tips.

» If someone follows you on foot, get away as quickly as you can. Go to someone’s house you know, run to other people or just run away.

» If someone is following you in a car, turn around and go in the opposite direction or take a path where a car would not go.

» Never leave school with someone who makes you feel uncomfortable.

Other general safety tips:

» Parents should establish “safe houses” where kids feel comfortable knocking on their door at any time a situation warrants it.

» Parents should not become lax about kids going to a friend’s home.

» Never let kids play out in the front yard alone without direct supervision by an adult.

» Parents should be cautious about blatant use of a child’s name on a backpack or jacket.

Noozhawk staff writer Alex Kacik can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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