“Parent Connect” participants at St. Paul on February 28 learned online predators have a new weapon to use against children. It’s a keyboard. Carroll County Sheriff’s Office Deputy “Gator” King and Business and Information Technology specialist Bobbi Jo Marshall were speakers who encouraged parents to take charge, monitor and communicate with children.
Principal Alvin Davidson opened the meeting with more than 30 in attendance. He told participants it followed similar work in the PTO meeting beforehand.
“It’s important for you to know what they should not be doing online. The most dangerous place in your home (in many instances) is not being watched,” said Marshall, who is a veteran teacher with more than 20 years experience.
She said a variety of items such as a cell phone, lap top computers, personal computers and video game consoles accept WiFi and therefore allow access to the Internet. Marshall explained cyberbullying is similar to old-fashioned bullying on the playground.
She stressed Internet technology help bullies to be faceless, prompting abuse to be deeper and more hurtful. Typically children fall prey to this when they post or forward a message which is shared and becomes embarrassing. Some instances are straight up spreading malicious rumors. Bullying also occurs when someone steals a child’s passwords and posts embarrassing things on the account.
Marshall told participants another concern is online sexual predators, which are typically adults pretending to be children to become close to teens. These persons send friend requests on social media sites and “groom” children to get their trust. Gradually they compile information so they can attract or abduct children.
She told parents younger children often share too much information. They should be told to never reveal their name, address, phone number or even the name of their school or school mascot, a picture of themselves and to not post photos so anyone may see them.
Marshall recommended teaching children to use a screen name which doesn’t give away their identity. Computer settings should have restrictions enabled so they are not available to everyone. Personal information should not be filled in.
“There are bad parts of the Internet just like there are bad parts in a town. Use parental control software which is readily available. There are also child-friendly search engines,” Marshall said. She recommended bookmarking sites so a child can’t accidentally type in something which could cause inappropriate content to be displayed.
Marshall reminded parents YouTube videos can go from one video to another automatically and the next video may be inappropriate. She encouraged parents to take a computer literacy class if needed, research online fads popular with children and purchase parental monitoring software.
“Will this totally block it? No. But it helps. Know what your kids are doing. chat with your children. Know what their favorite sites are and who they are talking to. Have a family meeting to agree on rules and post the rules close to the computer. Don’t let them shut the door.
“It’s up to you parents. Cyberbullying goes on every day,” said King. “You need to know what’s going on. Don’t take for granted they’ll do what you tell them to do. They’re kids.”
He said bullies can now stalk anytime, anywhere and it’s an epidemic nationally. Why? Pure entertainment. Bullies love picking on physical appearances. He’d seen many bullies which were initially victims who retaliate.
King said “there’s not such thing as privacy for teens. That is your phone they’re using.” He said some sites to watch for are Vine (where pornography is displayed easily); chat roulette (where participants talk randomly with strangers) and “Poof” (which hides apps on phones). He said if parents see a poof icon they should make you ask what they are hiding.
He also warned against “Yik Yak” where all participants in the chat rooms are anonymous, Kik Messenger, a proprietary instant messenger software application, and Snapchat, where videos are available for a short time but in reality do not self destruct.
Parents may visit www.NetSmartz.org for more information. This program is provided by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Cyberbullies or potential predators may be reported to the website, cell phone service, law enforcement or online at www.cybertipline.com.
David Broyles may be reached at 276-779-4013 or on [email protected]