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SAFE SCHOOLS, SAFE KIDS: Social Media — How “Social” Are Our Kids?

By School Resource Officer Amy Kingzett, Discovery Middle School

portrait of Officer Amy KingzettAs parents, we all want what’s best for our children and we try to do what we think is right to ensure that their basic needs are all met: a place to live, food and clothing, making sure they are receiving schooling, and keeping them safe.  When they’re young, we contemplate which products are best, we hold their hands as they cross the street, we anxiously wait for them to come home from their first days of school, and it breaks our hearts to see them get hurt.  Do parents maintain the same level of care when we make the decision to give our children access to electronic devices?

Social media is the new-age technology that allows us all to keep in touch with our colleagues, co-workers, family, friends, old friends… new friends.  Social media is rapidly changing and so are the challenges that come along with it.  As parents, we caution our children not to talk to strangers and to stay away from people or things that seem dangerous.  We would caution them of the same, when it comes to being online, wouldn’t we?  Parents need to be aware of their child’s online activity.  If your child has access to an iPod, a smartphone, a computer, or any other electronic device, this article applies to you.

Parents are frustrated when their child has become the target of an online bully.  Parents are usually stunned when they find out their child is the one who has been bullying other kids online.  Parents are always horrified when they find out their young child has been sending nude photos of themselves to someone that they may or may not even know.  Police officers are seeing these things, because the issues have become criminal, and that’s when it is already too late.  Families are devastated as the issues come to light and, even worse, sometimes suicide becomes a concern.

If your child has a cell phone or any other device, does it really need access to the internet?  Does it need to have texting capabilities?  Does it need a camera?  Does it need to be able to download Apps?  These are only decisions that you, as that child’s parent, can make.  Are you prepared to search through your child’s devices on a regular basis, to see exactly what they’re doing with them?  Can you really trust your child to use his or her phone in a responsible manner?  There are plenty of online monitoring software products out there that parents can purchase for their child’s devices.  Please consider researching these options.  If your child has nothing to hide, at least you can positively determine this with the help of monitoring software.

Discuss the consequences and legality of sexting with your children.  Officers are seeing this issue in Fargo high schools and middle schools.  Sexting, according to State Statute, is: “Creation, possession, or dissemination of sexually expressive images.”  It is considered child pornography, which is a felony if a person “knowingly posesses any motion picture, photograph, or other visual representation that includes sexual conduct by a minor.”

It has become apparent that children really don’t seem to know the full-extent of what this behavior can do to them personally, emotionally, socially, academically, professionally, etc., etc., etc.  If your child has the App Snapchat, you may not be able to find deleted messages.  If your son or daughter’s phone needs to be taken for a forensic examination, these images can be restored by police.  Inappropriate photos, videos, and other content are not really deleted when the user deletes them from the phone.  Once a person sends any type of content to someone else via text, or through an App, or online, there is no control over it at that point.  Even if they think it has been deleted.  This is why kids need to be cautioned about what type of content they produce in the first place.  This is why parents need to be proactive in their approach to their child’s access to social media, to make sure something damaging doesn’t happen to them.  Children need to know that their online reputation or digital footprint will follow them… haunt them… for the rest of their life.

Make sure that your child understands there are many predators are online, posing as anyone, and the predator may be someone that they’re already chatting with.  If your child’s phone doesn’t have texting capabilities, be aware that they can still send texts, messages, and photos through Apps like Snapchat or Kik.  Be aware of websites that have reputations for communicating abusive, bullying, sexualized content, such as Ask.fm, and determine if your son or daughter is participating in them.  If your child plays games online, make sure they aren’t participating in conversations with other online gamers.  Predators will choose sites dedicated for children (especially young children) to find their next victims.  It only takes a few clicks of a mouse for them to find your child.

Parents need to know their child’s passwords and member logins to any and all devices.  Parents need to be aware that children may have multiple accounts and multiple profiles and a child can set up their own “real” profiles just as easily as they can set up another “parent approved” profile.   Make sure social media privacy settings are set to the strictest levels.  Set up filtering software to monitor your child’s internet usage and cell phone usage.  Parents need to set ground rules and have consequences for when your child breaks them.  Parents need to know who your child is associating with in person AND online.  If you need help, contact the police department or your Fargo Public Schools Resource Officer.