Protecting kids and teens from Internet dangers - Part 2

By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Connecticut - posted Thu., Nov. 21, 2013
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The Internet can be a wonderful resource for our children. Online they can gain access to a wealth of information and new experiences. They can use the Internet for school work, to communicate with friends and teachers and to play interactive games. But with the benefits come potential dangers. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), one in three teens has experienced online harassment, and one in 25 youths have received an online sexual solicitation where the solicitor tried to make offline contact.

Sexting, which was officially added as a new word to the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary in 2012, has become more common among American teens. According to the NCMEC, 4 percent of cell-owning teens say that they have sent sexually suggestive nude or semi-nude messages to others via text message. Fifteen percent of cell-owning teens say they have received sexually suggestive nude or semi-nude images of someone they know via text. Social networking sites have never been more popular with teens. Seventy-three percent of teens have profiles on social networking sites, according to the NCMEC. Forty-seven percent of teens have uploaded photos to those sites, and 14 percent have posted videos.

The results of these activities are sometimes painful. According to bullyingstatistics.org, more than half of adolescents and teens have been bullied online, and about the same number have engaged in cyber bullying; more than 1 in 3 young people have experienced cyber threats online; more than 25 percent of adolescents and teens have been bullied repeatedly through their cell phones or the Internet; and well over half of young people do not tell their parents when cyber bullying occurs.

When these cases come to the attention of the public, it is usually when they turn tragic. Fifteen-year-old Amanda Todd drew international attention with her suicide in 2012. After her death, a video that she’d posted to YouTube went viral. In it, she used a series of flash cards to chronicle her torture at the hands of other teens. More recently, in September of this year, 12-year-old Rebecca Ann Sedwick jumped to her death after being bullied, often online, by as many as 15 girls for nearly a year. 

Scott Driscoll is an Internet safety expert. Retiring from Connecticut law enforcement after more than 21 years, Driscoll began teaching elementary school children about the dangers of the Internet. Through his company, Internet Safety Concepts, Driscoll has also developed programs for middle school students, high school students, and parents. Driscoll’s top message to parents looking to protect their children from Internet hazards is to use technology safely.

“Technology is going to be around for a long time and continue to grow,” he said. “When we use apps and programs we should be aware of what they do and how they can expose us to strangers or create a digital footprint in a negative way.  Almost every app or program has positive and negative aspects. We need to make sure we focus on the positive and use them in a safe manner.” Images and messages released to the Web can become a permanent record, said Driscoll, influencing future employment and relationships.

According to Driscoll, currently Kik, Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook are the top five most popular sites with young people. He encourages parents to become familiar with these sites. A general rule of thumb, though, is to coach children never to approve follow requests from people they don’t know. Kids should be encouraged to think carefully about photos uploaded to the Internet. “If a child geo tags a photo and allows strangers to follow them, then strangers can get the locations of where children upload their photos from,” said Driscoll.  Kids need to be reminded how quickly information can be shared, and that if the people using the programs do not exercise caution, “they can allow the wrong people access into their lives,” said Driscoll.

Scott Leslie, principal at RHAM High School in Hebron, said that teachers and administrators have taken steps to keep children safe at school. “We have presented a number of programs to students regarding Internet safety and bullying prevention,” he said.  “Both of these programs address the issue of using technology safely and the importance of not engaging in mean on-line behaviors.” Any issues that are brought to the attention of administration are dealt with immediately, said Leslie, in order to stop or minimize any inappropriate on-line behaviors.  “Also students, or any visitors, only have access to a safe, filtered on-line network when they use the school's network,” he said.

Leslie said there have been some incidents of online bullying at RHAM, typically through sites like Twitter. But, “Although online bullying behavior occurs, we have found a decrease in the number of online incidents each year,” he said. “This is consistent with what schools are finding across the state and, I believe, throughout the country.  I'm not sure if this is because the technology is no longer such a new phenomenon or if this is the result of the training parents and the schools have provided to students in the effective use of technology,” said Leslie. “Some of the decrease may also have resulted from students recognizing that they are likely to get caught and in trouble if they engage in inappropriate on-line behavior.”

At Manchester High School, at least one male teen has found himself in plenty of trouble, having been arrested on Nov. 20 and recommended for expulsion in connection with his role in posting "inappropriate and sexually explicit remarks about 17 girls," according to interim Superintendent of Schools Dr. Richard Kisiel. The investigation is ongoing as to the disposition of the other three male students who were involved in the social media post of a "thot" list, which stands for "that ho over there." Initially all four boys were suspended. The MHS youth who was arrested has been charged with obscenity and breach of peace.

Lynn Reilly, a guidance counselor at RHAM, suggests that an important way to derail the impact of all forms of bullying is to have ongoing communication with your child. “Some of the easiest ways for parents to open up the lines of communication with kids is to tell them personal stories of bullying situations that have impacted you directly, the emotional toll it took getting to the resolution and the positive ways you handled it so they can see there is an end,” said Reilly. “Our basic human need is to feel connected to others and be understood, along with the desire to manage our own challenges. Teaching them skills to use their own voice is the best way for them to protect themselves and remain empowered in life,” she said.

The FBI Cyber Division offers suggestions for parents looking to protect children from Internet dangers. Communicate with your children about potential on-line danger. Spend time with your children on-line, and have them show you their favorite sites. Keep the computer in a common room in the house, not in your child’s bedroom.  Utilize parental controls provided by your service provider and/or blocking software. Always maintain access to your child’s online account and randomly check his/her e-mail. Teach your child the responsible use of the resources online. Find out what computer safeguards are utilized by your child’s school, the public library, and at the homes of your child’s friends. Understand, even if your child was a willing participant in any form of sexual exploitation, that he/she is not at fault and is the victim. Instruct your child: to never arrange a face-to-face meeting with someone they met on-line; to never upload pictures of themselves onto the Internet or on-line service to people they do not personally know; to never give out identifying information such as their name, home address, school name, or telephone number; to never download pictures from an unknown source, as there is a good chance there could be sexually explicit images; to never respond to messages or bulletin board postings that are suggestive, obscene, belligerent, or harassing; that whatever they are told on-line may or may not be true. To these Driscoll adds two further suggestions: instruct your child never to share his/her password; and limit your child’s time online.

For more information regarding Internet safety, see Driscoll’s website at www.internetsafetyconcepts.com/. See the FBI’s recommendations at http://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/parent-guide. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s Netzsmartz Workshop contains a wealth of information regarding Internet safety at http://www.netsmartz.org/internetsafety.

ReminderNews staff writer Corey AmEnde contributed to this story
 


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