Social media and cyber contact is booming, and more and more, children are the users.
During a presentation Tuesday night, Cartersville Middle School partnered with the Bartow County Sheriff’s Office to educate parents on “Cybersafety: Risks and Misuses.”
The 18-and-up audience heard from Investigator Hollie McKamey on the different areas of concern from sexting to financial fraud and identity theft. The two-hour session also allowed questions from parents and provided tips on how to address cyber safety with children.
“More and more kids are spending more time on the Internet than watching TV. This generation of kids is now called mouse potatoes instead of couch potatoes,” McKamey said.
While traditionally thought of as a desktop computer, children today may access the Internet through cellphones, iPods, mobile gaming devices, cameras or laptops.
In addition to copyright infringement, bullying and gambling, McKamey said students are increasingly use electronic devices to cheat in school.
“There is also a concern for cheating, and this is becoming more and more prevalent as well,” she said. “… They’ll be sitting in class and they’ll text somebody the answers to the test, or they’ll actually take … the camera on their phone and take pictures of pages on the test and send it to all their little friends.”
But the main focus of the seminar was sexting, one of the fastest rising misuses involving youth. Sexting refers to children under the age of 17 sending sexually explicit material through electronic means to their peers.
McKamey, who works crimes against children, explained that sexting takes on two forms — the criminal aggravated type, which involves an adult, and the more innocent experimental sexting.
“We are seeing more and more of [experimental sexting] in Bartow County,” McKamey said. “It’s where a child will take a nude photo of themselves and then send it to another child, usually a boyfriend or a girlfriend. But there again, what happens? The child may ask for more, or it may be all good and dandy until that awful breakup. Then we are out for revenge.”
According to statistics, 15 percent of children under the age of 17 admitted to receiving nude or nearly nude images through text message.
One of the issues arising from the transmission of sexually explicit material by youth is the opportunity for sexual predators, child pornography and the sexual exploitation of children.
“With [Internet Crimes Against Children], I do undercover chats. I’ve posed as a 13-year-old girl and went online, and I can’t tell you how many men have initiated contact with me for the purposes of meeting up and having sex,” McKamey said. “It’s kind of scary, but just know that that threat is out there and that your children are susceptible to it.”
Parents posed questions addressing the use of Snapchat, protective software and even which mobile carrier to select based on access to text message records and message content.
“You have to learn about the devices, issues and trends,” McKamey advised.
“… One, you have to be the role model and set good examples of yourself. If you know there is some type of risky or harmful behavior that your child is engaged in, you need to talk to your child about that,” she said. “… We need more and more parents out there knowing what to tell their children because if you don’t tell them then their friend says it’s OK, it must be OK.
“You have to set clear rules at home. Everybody has to abide by these rules. One, what do your children do with their devices when they’re at home? … A lot of parents think, ‘It’s 9 o’clock at night. I know where my kid is — they’re upstairs in their bedroom. They’re safe.’ But they can get into so much trouble inside of their home …”
Lastly, McKamey suggested using strategies and tools that back up parental efforts.
“This may sound silly, but a lot of parents are doing — make them sign a contract,” she said. “… Do you have an acceptable use policy that clearly outlines the rules, what is expected and the consequences if they violate it? They’re children; they have to have the rules. You, as the parent, have to give them the rules.”
CMS will follow up Tuesday’s session with a cyber safety course geared toward students at a future date.
For more information on cyber safety, visit www.netfamilynews.org or contact McKamey at 770-382-5050, extension 6034.