Wednesday, February 24, 2016
Last week I wrote about cyberbullying, never realizing how popular the subject would be. It's sad to think cyber bullying is the new form of passing notes yet on a scale larger than we can't even measure. The door the internet world has opened to our children far exceeds a parent's worst nightmares and here is why:
1. The door can never truly be shut. Unless you live in a secluded environment without any connection to electronics, your child will be exposed to the internet.
2. There are so many apps and internet sites that, no matter how vigilant you are, kids will find them.
3. Even if you think you know what your kids are up to, chances are they have found other ways to get around your diligent surveillance (chances are, there's an app for that!). Some kids will download an app on the way to school and delete it before they get home.
4. NOTHING is anonymous, and pretty much everything goes up into the cloud and can be retrieved.
5. Chances are, if your child has a phone or has social media accounts, they have already committed a crime they never knew was considered a crime.
6. Anything they do on social media can follow them for the rest of their lives.
7. Social media has been the cause of extreme emotional trauma, suicide, and murder.
Today I attended a wellness coffee chat about cyber safety at my daughter's high school. I had dismissed other presentations just like this one in the past because I thought it didn't apply to me - to my kids. My kids are good kids - they would never get wrapped up in inappropriate cyber use. Ha! De-Nile is not just a river in Egypt (as my husband would say). Never say never and don't assume your child is protected or too smart for such things. We can continually reinforce the appropriate use of the phone and internet until we are out of breath, but let's face it - kids want to fit in and belonging to groups whether on the internet or via apps, allows them to feel included.
I get it. Kids need social outlets, and being in physical proximity of others is not always an option. Apps and internet programs allow for them to "hang out" even if they are sitting in the comforts of their own homes or being transported from one activity to another. There is nothing wrong with keeping connected - it's their new "normal" and the wave of the future. But how they use this technology is what we need to be concerned about.
I can give you statistics on phone and internet use and you would nod your head in agreement with the high percentage of time kids spend on social media. You see it with your own kids, eyes glued to their phones, rarely coming up for air. You may check to see what apps they are on, ask who they are texting, scroll through their chat feeds and feel pretty confident you have a handle on what they are being exposed to, but did you know that many, if not most, kids have secret accounts you don't even know about? They keep the account you look at fairly clean while the secret account may be used to hide things they don't want you to see. Now, you may be asking: "What's the difference between the secret account and confiding in friends - either way I wouldn't know?" And here's the simple answer: their audience.
Instead of sharing photos or thoughts with a few (hopefully) trusted friends, they are sharing content to the masses allowing anyone to use the material in a positive or negative way. Make a comment about poor behavior at a school rally on your class Facebook page could (and did in my daughter's case) earn you the comment, "You're a Bitch." Post a picture of yourself on a site where anyone, not just your friends, can comment could earn you the comment "You're ugly, go kill yourself." Most apps and sites today allow for anonymous participation which only welcomes an opportunity for destructive play.
Is your child aware that anything they put on the internet or text on their phones can be retrieved? Just because they deleted something, or the app claims it disappears after a certain amount of time, doesn't mean it's really gone. They might not have the chat or picture on their phone but someone does, or it's in the cloud and can be retrieved. Years down the road, when they are applying for college or a job, these poor judgments can come back to haunt them and prevent them from getting into the college of their choice or landing that perfect job. Schools and employers look for people's footprints on the internet.
Here's another scary fact. If your child posts a picture of someone else without the person's consent, especially if it's used in a negative way, they can face severe consequences - something I didn't know. How many times have you seen pictures of people on Facebook who you don't know with some negative caption on it? We might find it extremely amusing, but it's criminal if the subject did not give consent to share the picture. Also, if your child is involved in a chat where negative, hurtful things are being said, they can get in serious trouble if they don't report it, even if your child didn't engage in the conversation. Simply being a bystander and not taking action, puts your child at risk. And if an inappropriate photo is sent to your child, even if they didn't ask for it, and it's not reported, they could face legal action because they are now in possession of illegal material, even if they delete it.
Another thing to worry about is what information apps share with others. Some apps will disclose your child's location (super scary huh?!) putting them at risk for crimes against them. Pedophiles and other opportunists use some of these apps to find their next fix. Kids tend to be too trusting and give out more information than they should, giving predators an open door to enter.
Now that I have scared the crap out of you, here's the good news: open communication with your child, a knowledge of the apps and websites kids use and an understanding of the laws and school policies can help protect your child. The internet has created a new age of parenting - both good and bad. It's great to be able to be able to reach our children when they are away from home, but it's much more difficult to protect them from a world they are not equipted to navigate quite yet. Kids are bound to do stupid things, but educating them on the consequences of the negative use of apps and the internet will help curb bad outcomes. If you can attend a local presentation on this topic, I highly encourage you to do so. If you can't or one is not offered, find reliable websites that update information frequently on apps and sites to watch for. In addition, go over your child's school policy and see if your local police department has a list of internet sites to flag as well as the laws regarding the illegal use of the internet and phone content. Seriously, it's eye opening at what has been deemed as illegal.
Here are apps and social media sites you should be aware of. Not all of these apps are bad but you should be aware of how they work and what information they share. The list will always be changing, but for now, this is what tweens/teens are using.
1. Instagram: a picture and messaging app. I believe this is the most popular app for kids right now and is not really flagged as a bad app but it can get your child into trouble if they post inappropriate pictures or engage in inappropriate chats.
2.Twitter: allows a short blurb or picture.
3. Snapchat: allows you to send pictures and short videos that "disappear" shortly after they are viewed. I am told this is pure evil because it gives the kids a sense that whatever they post will be gone forever giving them an opportunity to post inappropriate content.
4. Facebook: this seems to be waning with kids and is considered the social media site for old people.
5. Periscope: allows for live streaming right from their phone. When they begin recording, anyone with the app can watch it live. It also gives your child's location.
6. Ask.fm: a question & answer service allowing kids to ask and answer controversial questions anonymously. This has been linked to several incidents of suicide.
7. Tinder: a photo and messaging dating app. Some kids join it just for the entertainment value, but it does open up the potential for inappropriate meetups.
8. Vine: allows the creation and posting of short looping videos and can contain mature content. This is rated 17+
9.Tumblr: another app to post things anonymously.
10. Oovoo: can access from computer or smartphone and allows them to chat with up to 12 friends or STRANGERS. Can send videos, messages, record, upload videos to YouTube and has an instant messaging feature.
11. Streetchat: formerly called Gaggle - offers free, live, anonymous photo messaging board for schools and colleges. Anyone can post whatever they want, and anyone within a two-mile radius can see it.
12.Tango: offers free video, phone calls, messaging and group chats up to 50 people. Has a history of being hacked.
13. uMentioned: posts juicy stories, dark secrets and funny moments by students on their campus.
14. Voxer: walkie talkie app that shares a user's current location.
15. WhatsApp: smartphone messaging app allowing users to create groups, send unlimited images, video & audio messages, and basic texting. Shares user's current location.
16. Whisper.sh: an iPhone app allowing users to share their "deepest, darkest secrets" anonymously through pictures & text. Content does not disappear like Snapchat and does not guarantee confidentiality.
17.Yik Yak: allows anyone to connect & share info with other users without having to know them. Can send anonymous messages within a 1.5-mile radius.
18. Burn note: messaging app that erases after a set period of time.
19. Skout: a flirting app that allows users to sign up as teens & adults. They are placed in appropriate peer groups & can post to a feed & comment on other's posts as well as add pictures and chat. The app will send notifications when other users near them join. Also sends notifications if someone "checks" them out.
20. Omegle: instant message app that allows chats with strangers. Available as an app or can use on their website.
Some others to be aware of:
4chan.org, 9Gag.com, AfterSchool, Badoo, Best Secret Folder, Burnbook, ChatRoulette.com, Creepypasta, Dropbox, FireChat, Fling, SuperFling, Gallery Lock. There are just too many to list!
It's amazing how many apps and sites there are that allow the user to be anonymous and not be held accountable for how they behave on the site. Not being held accountable welcomes bad behavior or allows material to be posted that is too mature for our kids. Worse are the sites sharing your child's location, allowing for an open invitation to cause not just emotional harm but physical harm as well.
I haven't personally checked out all of the listed sites or apps in this blog. This information was found online on various sites as well as from my daughter's high school. Some of the above information may not be correct or may have changed, so I urge you to do your own research, especially if your child is using any of the above social media apps or sites or if they are using something that you are not familiar with.
Some companies will allow parents to monitor their kid's electronics such as www.teensafe.com. While this seems like a perfect solution to keeping your child safe, there are drawbacks since you must give passcodes and important information which may open you up to identity theft or misuse of your information. The first steps you can take to protect your child is to go on their electronics and use the parent restrictions feature and adjust the settings to keep them from installing anything without your permission. Go through each app and check subfolders where they may be hiding other apps so you can't see them. You can also adjust the settings on your home router and even set specific times your child has internet access within your home. The local police said that a large percentage of the inappropriate behavior on these devices happens between 9 pm to 11 pm. Many wireless phone companies offer programs to further protect your child from apps and websites as well as allow you to monitor their texting.
I can't stress enough how important it is for you, as a parent or as a professional who works with kids, to educate yourself on a regular basis with what is out there as well as monitoring your child's electronics. Times have changed, and although the internet has made our lives easier in many ways, it has also opened up a much easier path to being severely hurt emotionally, physically and professionally. Talk with your kids about how they use their phone and devices and make sure they know what's appropriate and what's not. Let them know you are a safe place they can report inappropriate use and advise them not to allow anyone to use their phone or device on their behalf. And, if they can't use their device responsibly, be strong and take it away. You're not being "the worst parent ever!" but rather showing them how much you care and will do whatever it takes to protect them.