By CASSIE MCKEE, Four Points News
In the age of smart phones, social media and quickly-evolving technology, parents have a difficult job of allowing their children the freedom to use technology for school and learning while at the same time establishing healthy boundaries and ensuring their safety.
A Leander ISD Wellness Forum earlier this year in February addressed many parents’ concerns related to Internet security such as helping children make wise decisions on the Internet, cyber security and protecting children’s privacy, criminal behavior on the Internet and the legal implications of social media.
As an investigator with the Texas Attorney General’s Cyber Crimes division, Sgt. Ernest Rivera told parents that before taking his job, he had no idea how dangerous the Internet could be. As part of his job, he tracks down child predators by posing as a 13-year-old girl online. He told the audience about several cases he has investigated regarding teenagers who were sexually assaulted after going to meet the person with whom they thought they had been talking to online.
“These predators are great at grooming,” Rivera said. “A predator might try to flatter your child. They’re going to use their status to mold them and groom them into a face-to-face meeting. They will send your child gifts. I’ve been sent, as an undercover 13-year-old, all kinds of things – cell phones, bus tickets, lingerie. They ask your child to keep everything a secret. They know what they’re doing is against the law.”
He said he tells children and parents to limit what they post online.
“Our kids are putting way too much information online,” he said. “They don’t realize that what they’re putting online can spread quickly and to a lot of people.”
One huge problem among young people is the occurrence of “sexting” – texting nude photos of themselves to their boyfriend or girlfriend.
“When I go to the schools and I ask kids how many of you have seen one of your classmates in the nude on a phone or electronic device, half of them raise their hands,” Rivera said.
What they don’t realize, however, is that both the person who has taken the photo and anyone who receives and shares the photo are committing a crime.
“When they get in front of that mirror and they’re taking that selfie with that camera on their phone, right then and there, they are breaking the law,” Rivera said. “They have committed a crime because they have just produced child pornography. Once she sends that picture to her boyfriend, she’s broken another law because now she’s promoting child pornography. That’s a second degree felony. Once he’s got it on his phone, he’s in possession of child pornography, a 3rd degree felony.”
Rivera gave the following safety tips at the Feb. 10 forum:
- Do not accept friend requests from anyone you do not know on Facebook. Delete any friends who you do not know personally. Never share personal information with anyone online.
- Limit access to your location by turning off GPS services for photo posting and posting online, otherwise predators can track your location.
- Never post anything inappropriate online involving things such as drinking, drug use or hate speech.
“I tell the kids, ‘You need to think before you post,’” he said. “If they’d be embarrassed for their parents to see it online, it doesn’t need to be online.”
Technology in the classroom
By CASSIE MCKEE, Four Points News
Just as there are dangers with technology use, there are also great benefits, especially in education, which was highlighted at last month’s Leander ISD Wellness Forum which addressed parents.
Two years ago, Leander ISD started a policy of Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) to school. Bob Syner, assistant principal at Rouse High School, said that while cell phones have traditionally been thought of as a distraction in the classroom, schools must begin taking advantage of the amazing capabilities of students’ smart phones.
“They are an integral part of how our students learn,” Syner said. “If we continue to keep them out of the classroom, we’re doing our educational system and we’re doing our students a disservice because it’s important that they learn how these can be of a benefit to them.”
He said the district is in the process of bringing state-of-the-art laptops into the classrooms as well.
“We’re making our classrooms technologically-advanced places,” he said.
He said the district’s first priority, however, is to keep the students safe. Beginning with freshman orientation, teachers begin discussing Internet safety. He said all freshmen are required to take a professional communications class that also teaches online safety.
“We take the safety of our students in this online world very seriously,” said Scott Monroe, executive director of information technology services for LISD.
Internet Safety Tips for parents
- Have a “no device” zone in the house, such as the child’s bedroom.
- Have a phone “parking lot” in the house such as the living room or parent’s bedroom where phones must stay overnight and recharge.
- Check your child’s web history to see what websites they are going to. Don’t allow them delete history.
- Have device-free meal time; use that time to catch up and talk about the day. Have everyone stack their cell phones on the counter and the first one to reach for theirs has to wash dishes.
- Know your child’s social media passwords and regularly and randomly monitor their activity.
- Contact your Internet Service Provider to see what parental controls they offer.
- Contact your phone provider to see what services they offer for children. Many offer the ability to turn off Internet service at designated times.
- Talk to your children about social media and the importance of using caution when posting photos or other information.