‘Connect’, ‘post’, ‘tweet’, ‘hash tag’, ‘surf’, ‘texting’, ‘ friend me’ … in a short span of time the language of the Internet and social media has become a part of everyday conversation. It’s hard to remember a time when we were not “connected.” Social media and mobile technology have radically changed the way we communicate, socialize, shop, study, and do business.
According to the international data gathering site, Internet World Stats (www.internetworldstats.com) the rapid expansion of the Internet has been largely driven by two things: social media and mobile technology. It’s estimated that more than 3 billion people around the world are using the Internet on a regular basis, or approximately 46% of the world’s population.
With the clear benefits of the Internet, however, have come significant dangers, especially for children and young adults and for every user of social media, adults included. It is imperative that parents, educators and others concerned for the welfare of America’s youth recognize those dangers, and as far as possible take steps to reduce or eliminate them. This edition of Chartwell Bulletin looks at some of those dangers.
Being “Too Friendly” Online is Not a Good Thing
Chicago Police Detective Charles F. Hollendoner spends a lot of his time explaining to parents, young people, educators, and community members about why being “too friendly” online is not a good thing.
Det. Hollendoner, a police department veteran of more than 20 years, has spent the past 12 of them as a detective in the Special Investigations Unit’s Internet Crimes Task Force, part of a Multi-Disciplinary Task Force operating out of the Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center which deals with investigating myriad forms of child-related sexual abuse crimes, and also promotes Internet safety through responsible use of social media to help protect children safe from online predators and cyber bullying.
Det. Hollendoner’s message is that while social media has many benefits and conveniences, it also presents considerable risk. “Children —and even many adults— don’t realize the risks they take every time they log in, post, or send anything” and that “Parents need to understand these risks in order to monitor social media appropriately.”
Det. Hollendoner cites some of the key Internet and social media problem areas and behaviors that could set children up to be targets of online predators. He then offers specific suggestions on how concerned adults and parents can respond.
First the problem areas:
- Lack of Awareness about Privacy: Sharing too much personal information is “the most common risky behavior that kids today partake in online,” Det. Hollendoner says, adding that most of them rarely activate the privacy settings on their social media sites, so whatever they post immediately ‘goes public’ to an audience far wider than they probably intended.
- Sharing Passwords: Don’t share passwords: “Your passwords should be kept private and cell phone numbers should never be ‘tweeted’ out’ … keep your phone number to yourself.”
- Photos: Posting and Sending: “Posting inappropriate pictures is probably the largest at-risk behavior, risky for various reasons that children indulge in on the Internet” says Det. Hollendoner. He points out the amount of information that can be unwittingly contained in the background and foreground: addresses, last names, license plates numbers, and school names are some of the information passively included in photos, all of which make it easier for predators to locate a child. Young people need guidance on what is considered an “appropriate” or “inappropriate” photo to share: something clearly inadvisable to an adult might not be so obvious to a young person. A lack of awareness can be lead to trouble at school, and even at one’s future job. Inappropriate photos could also lead to blackmail, something that doesn’t only happen to celebrities. Det. Hollendoner’s rule of thumb: if young people think that their “grandparents would not react negatively to the picture” then by all means, go ahead and post it. He emphasizes that once something is posted online, even if it’s later deleted, it’s not really forever gone. “It stays on the Internet FOREVER” and once the photo is sent, the sender has “lost all control over where it ends up.”
- Know the consequences of breaking the law: Ignorance of the law is another possible trap for young Internet users: in many states, when a teenager creates, sends, or receives a “sext” message —a text that has sexual content concerning other young people— they may have committed an act of child pornography. This may apply to all senders in the chain of contacts, not just the originator. In many states, anyone, even those under the age of 18, who knowingly transmits and sends photos of themselves of a sexual nature, or anyone who knowingly transmits and sends photos of someone known to be under age 18 has committed a felony. Possession may also be a felony where there was “sufficient time” to terminate the photo. This means that the recipient should delete a sext as soon as they read it and not wait hours or days.
- Online Predators: They exist, and they are actively looking for victims. Typically attracted by those inappropriate pictures, and then attempting to make contact. Det. Hollendoner notes that all races and genders are susceptible to an online predator. He emphasizes that if a child has been approached online by someone asking for revealing pictures, or talked to about sex, they should immediately report it. There is a hotline, www.cybertipline.com where an approach can be reported, and the tip will be directed to the appropriate law enforcement agency.
- Cyber-bullying: The term is used to describe children bullying other children through the medium of electronic technology, either the Internet in general or social media in particular. This type of bullying gains momentum by information acceleration. It is no longer just a few students in a single schoolyard picking on someone. It could quickly snowball into hundreds, thousands, or in some instances, hundreds of thousands of children making fun of someone because of the speed and ease of social media. The results are devastating and can even be fatal. There have been cases where young people have committed suicide, unable to bear the barrage of taunts. Young people must be told there will be serious consequences for such behavior: from school suspension or expulsion, up to arrest and prosecution by law enforcement agencies. Det. Hollendoner advises parents to keep any messages or posts as evidence of their child being bullied.
What can concerned adults do? Det. Hollendoner has these tips on what parents can do to be informed and proactive, starting with:
- Become Internet Safety Savvy: In order to mitigate some of the online threats to their children, parents need to become Internet safety savvy: incorporate Internet safety into discussions with their children, and set Internet and social media use limits. Just as good social etiquette begins at home, Internet safety, consciousness and responsible social media behavior does, too.
- Know the passwords: Det. Hollendoner believes it’s important for parents to know the passwords to their children’s Internet and social media accounts. He said that in the event something terrible happens, such as a child disappearing those accounts could give law enforcement clues to help find them.
- Talk to your children about behaviors and consequences: Det. Hollendoner noted that while teens may find it entertaining to post photos of them or friends behaving badly, as noted above, those teens should understand that certain posts could land them in serious trouble. As well as law enforcement issues, college admissions counselors are increasingly looking at social media sites as part of their admissions practices, something that is only going to continue to grow as social media becomes more and more prevalent.
- Be curious and keep a watchful eye: Above all, he stresses, it is really up to parents to monitor what their children are doing online and with their mobile devices. He encourages dialogue and keeping watch. Take a look at their cellphone, tablet, or laptop now and then, and if you see something that concerns you, talk to them about it. Use news items about social networking or televisions shows to talk about social networking dangers.
Finally, says Det. Hollendoner, parents should not hesitate to report any problems to local law enforcement any time they feel their child is being threatened or harassed by anyone online.
The Chicago Police Department has more tips for parents and young people about how to ensure Internet Safety on its website: www.chicagopolice.org.
Monitoring or Snooping? Tech Tools to Help Parents Control Children’s Online Use
In a recent column with the headline “Can’t Get Your Child Off the Internet” that was widely read, shared, and commented on, Wilson Rothman, Personal Tech Editor at the Wall Street Journal, offered parents some tips about some tech gadgets for home Internet network use that could be used to block sites, set time limits, and monitor Internet activity. He also makes the point that, “However, the ability to snoop on your children…is not something to take lightly. It can’t replace a frank discussion about Internet safety and how to treat others online.” (Note: The author of this Bulletin has found the Circle device made by the Disney Company to be an effective method of setting time limits on Internet activity.)
Readers weighing in on the topic debated whether such controls were the best solution for the problem. “You cannot lock your child in a virtual tower-unless you also lock them in a physical tower,” wrote one. Another said, ” Better to equip them with the judgment, self-awareness, self-respect, respect for others, decency, manners and decision-making skills that will enable them to encounter whatever flavor of Internet content you deem unacceptable and emerge unscathed.”
Here’s a link to the story. Decide for yourself. “Can’t Get Your Child Off the Internet” by William Rothman (column originally published in The Wall Street Journal).
My children can’t do anything online without my knowing. Whether they visit a website or fire up an Internet-connected app on their tablets or iPods, I see it in action. And when it’s bedtime—or just time for everybody to get their heads out of their devices—the Internet access magically cuts off. I can do it because of a new kind of gadget. It’s easily installed on a home network to monitor the activity of connected devices, and even control what they can and can’t do online. The best thing about it is that you don’t have to install any software on the controlled devices, just a single app on your own smartphone.
A recent column, in the New York Times looked at the findings of the Pew Foundation’s recently released comprehensive national report on “Parents, Teens and Digital Monitoring” and concluded that “Parents Monitoring Teenagers Online, and Mostly, Getting It Right” by KJ Dell’Antonia.
Think Like A Teen: An Online Internet and Social Media Quiz for Grown Ups
So you think you know ‘what those kids are doing online’?
Take this quiz which was designed by the Pew Research Center to look at “Teen Internet and Social Media Use and Behaviors” and find out what you do, and don’t really know!
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