Social Media: Internet safety starts at home

"Our investigators estimate it takes approximately 45 minutes for an online sex predator to find a child’s information."Jon Bruning, Nebraska Attorney General Being cyber-safe is more than creating unique passwords and usernames. It is being aware of the threats associated with online and electronic communication and how to avoid them. A social media awareness evening last week sponsored by Healing Hearts and Families, and Safe Communities for Custer County drove the point home. Jim Ingram, Data Systems Coordinator of the Nebraska Domestic Violence Sexual Assault Coalition, talked about the ease of tracing information through the Internet, and of some of the readily available inexpensive ‘spy’ tools. “Have kids changed?” he asked. “No they haven’t, what has changed is the technology.” For kids born in the 40s and 50s - not everyone had a telephone, in the 60s and 70s color TV was high end, with the 80s and 90s came cable, the VCR and Internet, by 2000 cell phones were common, and now it’s texting, sexting, instant messaging, forums and photo sharing. “There is no one answer to dealing with technology. It is still your job as parent, teacher, mentor, coach and counselor to help guide today’s youth,” he said. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, one in seven kids was solicited for sex online in 2010, and one in 33 kids received aggressive online solicitations to meet in person; and one in three kids indicated they communicated with people they didn’t know online. One parent asked a very key question at last week’s meeting. “I don’t know my child’s password to her laptop, nor to her email accounts. How can I keep her safe?” Ingram was quick to respond ... but first had some question in return.. Who’s pays for the Internet service? Who purchased the computer? You did. Who is the parent? You are. As the adult responsible for the bill, you can contact the Internet provider and change the password. He highly suggested that parents become ‘friends’ of their children online, through Facebook, etc., whichever program is the mode of choice, and then stay quiet. Be the quiet observer. “If you don’t know your children’s passwords, that’s a problem. You have to look out for the red flags. You have to trust your instincts,” he emphasized. “Our children need to be aware of their on-line presence. Be aware of privacy controls and then use them. Incorporating technology into parenting in today’s times is critical. Attorney General Jon Bruning made this same point in a press release issued by his office this week. “Nebraska kids are tech-savvy and may think little of using the Web to share information with friends or classmates. They may frequent social networking sites, post photos and share information about their daily lives. Unfortunately, kids may not fully understand the implications, or the permanence, of their online wireless activity. “When kids post information intended for friends, it can be accessed by others for years - even if it is deleted from their site. Inappropriate images and comments posted today may have unintended consequences tomorrow. “Threatening others, or cyberbullying, may lead to social problems and/or discipline from school administrators. Some online behavior may even have legal consequences, such as posting photos of minors engaged in lewd activity, underage drinking to drug use. “And any personal information posted may be accessible by lurking online sex predators. “One popular website asks users for detailed personal information including school, age and home address. Anyone can log-in, search the database and find specifically-aged kids in a particular town. “For an online sex predator, that’s like hitting the jackpot. Predators may use the information to strike up a conversation, become a child’s online friend and ask to meet in person. “When using electronic communication, kids should never assume the person on the other end is who they say they are. Privacy settings should be utilized on all social networking sites and phone numbers and addresses should never be posted online. “Kids should be mindful when posting photos, sharing comments or accepting friend requests. And above all, they should never agree to meet someone in person they met online or through texting.” In Bruning's office, investigators have found predators are using cell phones to reach potential victims through texting, instant messaging and picture sharing. Add the introduction of smart phones, applications, online groups, social networks, and add the fact that this means of communication can be accessed from nearly everywhere, it makes it even harder to trace. This brought the topic of conversation at the Internet Safety evening to Sexting ... the act of sending sexually explicit messages or photographs primarily between mobile phones. Even if they were only sent to one person, these messages, and or pictures can be downloaded and shared. Bruning warns that kids may not understand that sharing suggestive photos of minors is not only wrong, it may be criminal. Ingram said to watch out for signs that your child is being placed into situations they find threatening, such as a change in their usual route or activity, a change in attitude, behavior or mood, unusual signs of depression or sadness. Be vigilant to behaviors or actions that are inconsistent with accepted house rules. Be alert to unidentified ‘issues’ with specific classes or activities, or if grades start to drop. “Trust your feelings, go with your instincts. What is acceptable in your relationship often mirrors itself in your child’s relationships,” he said. Ingram asked parents to think about the Internet usage in their own homes. Where is the computer, is it in a hidden or in an exposed location? Are their webcams, or microphones? What is the computer being used for? Check the computer’s history. Check the browsing modes. Check for installed programs. Look at the documents, and don’t forget to look in the trash. Bruning echoes Ingram's suggestion of taking an active role when it comes to technology. “As parents, you can take an active role in educating your children about online and electronic communication safety. Unfortunately, many kids are more tech-savvy than their parents. Knowing this, you must first educate yourself. But education is not enough. “Parents can purchase parental control software that limits the website children can access from the home computer. Cell phone service carriers can restrict phones to receive and send messages only to know phone numbers. Parents can also explore the Internet with their kids; learn what websites they frequent and what they do there.” Ingram had these suggestions: 4 Set rules do not be vague. Let your children know what and what not is allowed. 4 Equate etiquette in the cyberworld, and on the cellphone with household etiquette. Reinforce family values. 4 Discuss on-line vs. real life relationships. Both can be good, but there is a difference. 4 Introduce critical thinking and judgement thinking, and ask questions ... “Is it too good to be true? Why is the popular kid in school now being nice online? Why is the stranger suddenly interested in all of the same topics? 4 And if you get an email offering a barrel of cash ... do not open, hit the delete button. For more information visit