This Spring, the threat of Covid-19 caused many schools to adopt a "distance learning" policy that meant a majority of Maine kids spent a great deal more time online than they ever had before, for the sake of school. And as kids get ready to head back for a new school year, many of them will still be relying heavily on the internet and their computers to complete their studies.

More kids online in many cases could mean more opportunities for those that would try to do them harm. We reached out to local authorities to get an idea of what kinds of precautions parents and students should be taking to keep themselves safe in cyber space.

Officer Andy Whitehouse has worked in law enforcement for 26 years. Several years ago, after spending some time in some of the local school departments and recognizing there was a need for online safety information in these communities, Whitehouse  created an online safety program. The program was designed for educators, parents and students alike, and highlighted some of the local and national cases involving internet crimes against kids. I happened to attend one of those programs, and was struck with how much there is to be aware of when it comes to keeping kids safe online. And with technology ever-evolving, it's important to keep up on what these new threats. We spoke with Officer Whitehouse this week, and asked him for some input on what parents should be doing to prepare, as kids head back to school, and back online.

Whitehouse says that while most parents think that its a problem that happens in other parts of the country, the threats are very real, and certainly hit close to home, even here in Maine.

While having a conversation with your kids about online safety, and who they're talking to on the net can seem overwhleming, Officer Whitehouse says there are a number of great resources out there that can help get the dialogue started, and even help you monitor your kids' online activity to keep them safe. One such website is, https://www.netsmartzkids.org/.

The biggest take away from the program Whitehouse put together: Stop thinking of checking on your kids as an invasion of privacy. It is not only your right as a parent to keep young, forming minds safe from harm, but it's also your responsibility--especially since, in many cases, you're the one providing the device and the access to the internet.

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