WINNSBORO — Tablets, smart phones and e-book readers were among the most popular gifts for children in 2013, but buyer beware: According to the PEW Research Center Internet & American Life Project, one in six youths ages 12 to 16 has received a nude or partially nude image from a friend or classmate.
Such behavior might be done in a flirtatious manner but the teen sending the images is producing obscene content and the teens receiving the images become possessors of child pornography, whether the consequences of such behavior occurs to them or not.
“Young people think that Instagrams and pictures that are posted are private but I’d like to stress, it is not private. It becomes public knowledge,” said Fairfield County School Resource Officer Steve McDonald.
According to Netsmartz.org, a resource McDonald strongly recommends parents use, youth are tempted to engage in risky behaviors using Web 2.0, a web platform where people share their opinions, likes and dislikes online using interactive media like Facebook, Myspace, Youtube, Snapchat, and blogging.
High risk behaviors include youth “friending” unknown people; posting personal information online; embarrassing or harassing people; talking about sex and sending or posting provocative images; sharing passwords with friends and clicking on pop-ups that can lead to inappropriate sites.
Another risk is cyberbullying. If a youth use a mobile device to spread rumors, gossip, post pictures without someone’s consent, or steal passwords and assume others’ identities to cause trouble, he or she is being a cyberbully.
McDonald said the one thing young people must do if they are victims of cyberbullying is to report it.
“Our district has an anonymous Safe Schools Tip Line,” he said. “We encourage our young people to use the line because cyberbullying has to be discovered and reported (so it can be dealt with).”
Responses include blocking certain numbers from a phone or device. If a crime is serious enough, law enforcement can track the numbers or screen names back to individuals and charges can be filed. The number is 803-635-7195.
According to the district, “the Tip Line allows students and parents to report weapons, threats of violence, bullying, gang activity, harassment, suicide, drug involvement, and any and any activity that could potentially endanger students, staff, and property.”
Parents/guardians need to make children aware that if they are cyberbullied they need to not respond to the message, but save the message and tell an adult they trust.
Conversation is key
Conversation needs to begin at a young age so youth feel comfortable going to adults if they encounter problems online.
Ways to break the ice include watching funny Youtube videos together or playing a favorite video game together. McDonald said it’s important to get conversations started about online chats. Parents need to ask if children have been offered gifts or if anyone has offered to meet them offline.
McDonald said the danger from online child predators is real.
According to www.netsmartz.org, warning signs that a child is being groomed for potential exploitation include receiving gifts through the mail; making calls to unknown numbers; spending a lot of time online; getting upset when cannot get online; minimizing screen or turning off monitor when you come in the room; and turning away from friends and family.
Parents need to make sure their children realize if they come into contact with an online predator, they need to block the person, report it and get them banned from all contact.
Trust, but verify
One way parents can minimize the risk to their children is by talking to them about not revealing too much personal information online. Parents/guardians need to be aware of their child’s screennames, privacy settings, friends lists and to monitor his or her online comments.
Keeping the computer in a common room where adults can check on Internet activity is another thing he recommends.
“As a parent, you need to trust your child but also check behind them (as a safety),” McDonald said.
He said there are applications available that allow parents to review daily events on a child’s phone or tablet. McDonald said school resource officers have conducted some parent education programs on safety and that there is even an application a parent can install on a phone to trace the phone’s location.
He said such an application has two benefits: the phone has a better chance of being located if it is stolen and a parent can ping the phone to know where the phone is and by extension where there child is at any given time.
• Google the child’s name, screen names, address and phone numbers at least once a week to see what your child has been posting and if anyone has posted other things about the child.
• Bookmark favorite sites so children will not mistype an address and end up at the wrong site.
• Use kid-sized, age appropriate search engines
• Limit online time
• Check with teachers for suggested resources and websites
• Have a child get parental permission before posting profiles, blog content or sending personal information by instant message, text or email
• Use a pop-up blocker, an anti-virus program and a spyware remover
• Only allow pre-approved users to instant message your child