Social Media: Why Parents Need to Look
By Detective Charles F. Hollendoner,Chicago Police Department
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat. This is the 21st century form of communication. Social media is the wave of the future. All we see are kids with their phones in their hands and thumbs flying over keyboards. Donâ€™t get me wrong, social media does have itâ€™s benefits. Social media allows family to stay in touch. It also allows people with similar interests to share information and learn from each other. Social media is also a great form of entertainment by allowing people to play games, share videos and music.
However, social media also presents many risks. Children, and some adults, donâ€™t realize the risks they take every time they log in, post, or send anything. Parents need to understand these risks in order to monitor social media appropriately.
Sharing too much information is the most common risky behavior that kids today partake in online. Children donâ€™t realize that the world is watching what you post. Many kids have no privacy settings on whatever social media they are using, and therefore post for the world to see. Children must know what is appropriate and inappropriate content to share.
Sharing passwords is common. My advice is to always keep your passwords private. Cell phone numbers should never be â€œtweetedâ€ out. Teens will commonly post things like this and then wonder why they are getting strange text messages and calls. Keep your phone number to yourself. It is also important to watch what may be contained in a picture that is posted. Addresses, license plates and school names are common in pictures and make locating a child easier. Teens also are big into posting drinking and drug usage. Not only can that get them in trouble with school and law enforcement, but it can be easily accessed by current and future employers. College admissions counselors are looking into more social media now than ever before. It is likely that the use of social media by college admissions counselors will only continue to grow as social media becomes more and more prevalent.
Posting inappropriate pictures is probably the largest at-risk behavior that children indulge in on the Internet. These pictures can be used for blackmail, cause trouble at school, and work, and attract predators. Teens must remember once you hit "send" or "post,' it stays on Internet FOREVER. Children have to realize that once that picture is sent, they have lost all control over where it ends up. The best rule of thumb for pictures is this: if your grandparents would not react negatively to the picture, feel free to post it.
A common repercussion of those inappropriate pictures is an online predator. This is a person who looks at content, and is attracted to it to the point of acting on it by attempting to talk to the child. In my experience online predators are males, usually between the ages of 25 and 30. They are very up front about their intentions, which are nearly always sexual. All races and all genders are susceptible to an online predator. If a child has been approached online by someone asking for revealing pictures or talked to about sex, please report it. There is a hotline, www.cybertipline.com, where it can be reported and the appropriate law enforcement agency will receive the tip.
Cyber-bullying is probably the most used term for childrenâ€™s actions online and it causes the most problems in schools and in homes. This type of bullying gains momentum by information acceleration. It is not just a few kids picking on someone anymore. It could be hundreds, thousands, or in some instances, hundreds of thousands of children making fun of someone because of how easy it is to feed off one another using social media. Victims of cyber-bullying are very much at risk for emotional troubles. Even those that do the bullying probably have some kind of issue either at home or school. The results are devastating. All too often we hear of children hurting themselves or killing themselves over what other children are saying about them. Children must learn that the consequences of cyber-bullying can range from suspension and expulsion in school, to arrest and prosecution by law enforcement. Parents should keep any and all messages or posts as evidence of their child being bullied once they realize it is becoming an issue.
It is up to parents to monitor what their children are doing. Take a look at their cellphone, tablet or laptop now and then. If you see something that concerns you, talk to them about it. Use news items about social networking or televisions shows to talk about social networking dangers. Lastly contact local law enforcement if at anytime you feel your child is being threatened or harassed by anyone online.