As the digital realm has found its way into almost every area of our lives, keeping our kids safe on the internet has become more important than ever. To help educate parents on the dangers their kids are exposed to online, Payette High School hosted an Online Safety Seminar on Nov. 20.
Following are some key takeaways from that seminar.
1) Kids like the attention
Payette County Juvenile Probation Officer Shawn Winston presented information to parents in attendance, including identifying the various social media platforms available, age requirements for social media accounts, and about the potential for addiction to such platforms.
“Everybody wants attention; Really, what the digital world has turned us into is the cat crawling up in everybody’s lap, saying ‘pet me, love me, give me attention right now,’” he said.
Winston points out that ignoring the problem can actually fuel it:
“If we don’t teach our kids … that’s where they turn to for that ‘feel good.’”
Age requirements range from 13 for Facebook, all the way up to 18 (or 13 with parental controls) for TikTok and YouTube.
2) Phones are in more pockets than ever
According to Winston, smartphones are in more adolescents’ pockets than not, with 70% of sixth-graders, 80% of seventh-graders and 90% of eighth-graders carrying one. Winston has also pointed out that students he observed in schools have often sent text messages to each other, despite being right next to each other in class.
He said that area police agencies have conducted studies that determined texting and driving to be equal to drinking and driving.
3) Employers can see what you do online
Winston also reminds parents that social media is also used extensively by hiring managers and college boards, who can find out what applicants have posted online with a simple search. He cited one example of a woman who applied to become a Marine Corps recruiter and was denied the job because she had sent her ex-boyfriend an inappropriate picture of herself when they were dating and the ex-boyfriend had posted it online for her commander to find.
“She cannot be a positive image of the Marine Corps with that kind of material going around,” Winston said.
4) Human trafficking happens in the U.S.
Winston warned that despite some parents’ belief that human trafficking is only a problem in other countries, it happens here, too. He pointed out that for girls, online predators include other girls, older boys and older men, such as men using girls to get pictures and meet up. For boys, he pointed out that older men target boys as well, as do older women.
Winston described sexting, or sending nude photos online, as a ‘digital tattoo’ which opens up those involved to further bullying by their peers and their families to possible extortion.
“Once you send it, it never disappears. Yeah, you can delete it off your page …” but Winston warns that someone potentially could have a copy already, ready to hand it off to others or demand money, favors to maybe get rid of it or keep demanding more pictures using threats.
“We don’t live in a proverbial ‘Kansas’ anymore,” Winston said.
5) Stay a step ahead of predators
A growing problem worldwide is online predators who smuggle victims into sex trafficking circles. Juvenile Probation Chief Roy Bullington pointed out that there have been victims in Payette County.
“It’s been getting pretty heavy around this area; We’ve had several that’s been involved,” Bullington observed.
The only way to avoid getting involved in such circles, according to Winston, is to not send inappropriate pictures in the first place.
“You can say no … and that’s what we need to get you guys to understand,” is Winston’s message to kids.
6) That calculator app may not be the real deal
Bullington pointed out there are apps where you can socialize and share photos privately, including apps that look and act like a calculator.
“There’s a calculator app out there that you can put on your phone that hides anything that you want behind it,” which kids and adults can use simply by typing in an access code.
7) Parents need to be vigilant
Payette County Sheriff’s Lt. Andy Creech highlights how posting vacation photos not only gives away where you are, but also gives criminals the chance to rob you before you get home, and how kids’ use of apps without privacy settings in place acting the same way. Creech advises disabling apps’ use of your location while not using them.
“Think about what that app’s going to be useful for,” Creech warns.
Creech further offers the following tips for parents:
• Stay educated
• Talk with your kids
• Check their phones randomly
• Set up a central charging location
• Be careful about third-party apps kids are downloading
• Don’t offer a smartphone to kids until age 13
• Set a friend limit of 200 or less
“You’ll be surprised when you look at some kids’ social media accounts,” Creech said, noting many kids have friends who don’t even go to school with them, including friends of their friends.
Winston reminds parents that by keeping tabs on their kids’ online activity, they are showing love whether the kids believe it or not.
“Some kids sit there and go, ‘Well you’re invading my privacy, you don’t love me because you’re doing this.’ Actually it’s quite the opposite,” said Winston.
He advises parents who find out their child has sent out such pictures to call their local police department first, then once police are involved to shut down their accounts and start social media life over.
8) Don’t believe the hype
Despite a February 2018 article in the Washington Post suggesting sexting to be “normal” and part of a “healthy relationship” among teens, Winston says it’s not.
“It opens you up to extortion,” he emphasized.
Parents can learn more about online safety by contacting their local law enforcement agencies. The Payette County Juvenile Probation Department plans to have another Online Safety Seminar in mid-March, with details to come.