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Pennsylvania Leaders Warn Of Potential Dangers Related To Online Learning

HARRISBURG, Pa. (KDKA) -- Thousands of students across Pennsylvania have entered the online classroom this school year to help mitigate the spread of coronavirus.

But there are threats state leaders want parents and students to be aware of.

The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance and Attorney General Josh Shapiro held a virtual press conference on Monday, reminding parents there are more than math problems behind the computer screen.

"The internet can be a tremendous educational tool. And the pandemic has presented hundreds of thousands of young Pennsylvanians with opportunities to engage with teachers, friends, and families and have access to instruction," said Teresa Miller, the secretary of the DHS.

However, what students should not have access to is what brought our state's top child safety experts together. Those on the call warned of inappropriate content, child predators, and cyberbullying, which is reportedly on the rise, according to reports on the Safe2Say Something app.

"The tips have increased when it comes to cyberbullying from about 17 percent to about 38 percent of the overall tips," said Shapiro.

With record numbers of children logging online, leaders encourage parents to keep a close watch.

"They need a higher level of engagement and assistance. Make sure you are somehow fitting that in. We know it's hard but you have got to do it," said Angela Liddle, the CEO of PFSA.

Liddle recommends placing children's devices in open spaces, observing their use, asking questions and checking their browser history.

"Ask who they're interfacing with online, know who those people are," said Liddle.

Also, there is growing concern over child abuse. When schools closed, childline reports — commonly filed by school staffers — decreased almost 50 percent, according to DHS.

Attorney General Shapiro encourages people to use the Safe2Say Something app, which allows anyone to send anonymous tips about a child's well being.

"They are always there for you. It doesn't matter if it's between school hours or not. You need help, reach out to Safe2Say and we will be there for you," said Shapiro.

Educators are now being trained to observe the backgrounds of students' chat windows to look and listen for signs of abuse.

For parents who struggle to understand technology, experts recommend the following websites to learn about the internet and even the online lingo kids are using: NetSafe, Digital Guardian and Get Net Wise.

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