Parents: face your cyber fears
By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Killingly - posted Thu., Mar. 24, 2011
During a talk called "Teen Year, Cyber Fears" at Killingly High School on March 15, former law enforcement officer Scott Driscoll told about a 2007 sexting case in which a 14-year-old girl sent an inappropriate photo of herself to her boyfriend. The boyfriend forwarded it to 15 of his friends. The couple broke up, and the photo was forwarded again. Eventually the photo of this young girl ended up on an Internet site in Singapore.
In January 2011, the photo surfaced in another country with the girl's name attached to it.
“Now it's a digital footprint of her past,” Driscoll said. “When she applies for a job, this might come up in the company's investigation of her application.” The consequences of what kids do goes far beyond the legal ramifications, he said. And kids don't always think of these things when they use their cameras and computers.
When GPS features are enabled on telephones, the photos can provide longitude, latitude, date and time it was taken. There are free programs on the Internet where this data can be accessed, he said. The popular site Face Book removes this meta data when someone posts a photograph, Driscoll assured his audience.
Driscoll stressed the permanence of the information sent out into the world wide wet. He was particularly concerned about the frequency with which teens send and receive photographs over the web. One in five teens have sent and received nude photos, a procedure known as sexting. Seventy-one percent of teen girls aged 14-18 have sent photos to boyfriends. It's common for nude photos to be shared, he said.
“It's like anything,” he said. “with every good, if we don't use it properly, there's a bad.”
The special presentation to parents on the dangers the Internet is Driscoll's brainchild. He created Internet Safety Concepts in order to teach families how to use technology and the Internet safely. Sadly, only 20 parents showed up in an auditorium built for many more.
Killingly High School Principal Andrew Rocket bemoaned the low turnout. He mused that parents’ fears about the Internet were reflected in the numbers of the audience. “Parents are behind in the dangers they face,” he said.
Driscoll took his audience on a tour of Internet sites favored by teens. He talked about the technology built into cell phones and seemingly anonymous Internet addresses. He explained how chat rooms worked and how a predator might use them to ensnare unsuspecting teens.
“Technology is an incredible tool,” he said, “If you take it away, you hurt your kids, but there should be rules.”
Driscoll has spent more than 20 years in law enforcement, and he has seen the worst of what the Internet can offer. In 2003, he joined an FBI-led effort to protect kids on the Internet. For years, he “masqueraded” as a 14-year-old kid in order to lure in child pornographers visiting certain chat rooms and websites. Unfortunately, it isn’t the easiest thing to prosecute, he said, citing discrepancies in state and federal statutes. He became convinced that the gulf between what parents understood of technology and the ease with which their children used it, needed addressing.
Driscoll discussed the dangers associated with e-mails, social networking, texting, sexting and cyberbullying. What he had to say about chat rooms was perhaps the most disturbing. He used real cases to illustrate what had happened to some teens when they didn't exercise due caution with technology.
He warned parents that email addresses can no longer be anonymous. “If someone creates an address like firstname.lastname@example.org, this address lasts forever. Every time you send from that address, the Internet carrier assigns an IP address, he said. These are traceable. He gave an example of a student applying for scholarships. When a committee discovered some of the emails in her history, they rescinded their scholarship offer.
Driscoll saved his most direct warnings about teens using chat rooms.
“They are basically rooms full of strangers,” he told his audience. “Remember telling your kids never to talk to strangers? Well this is what chat rooms are.” In every chat room he's been in, what starts out as questions of a site-specific nature always leads to questions about sex. They could be teen chat rooms, Christian chat rooms, rooms with the most innocent sounding names. But he doesn't think anyone under the age of 18 should go into a chat room.
People using them are basically setting up profiles of themselves, he said. And predators surfing the web use them. He urged parents to check their children's computer usage and the sites they use.
“It isn't spying. It's parenting,” he said. “Kids think they have control, but they don't.” They aren't always knowledgeable enough or mature enough to realize this.
He gave parents the following guidelines: learn about computers; keep a computer in a common area and set up ground rules; check your computer's history on a regular basis and know your children's “friends” on their social networking sites; never share passwords with anyone; follow tweets and posts by your teens; set search engine for strict filtering.
There isn't one tool parents can use to keep their kids safe, he said. Technology changes all the time. Parents have to keep up with it as best they can.