I recently attended an online safety conference and met a young man named Wil Craig. Wil was being honored at the conference for his work with ATT's "It Can Wait" campaign.
He has a powerful message to share about the dangers of texting and driving.
Please take a minute to listen.
To learn more about ATT's "It Can Wait" campaign click here: http://itcanwait.com/
"Must be at least 13 years of age." This is typical language often included within the Terms of Service of sites that our children frequent. It indicates the minimum age required to use the site. But, does minimum age actually reflect the appropriate age for usage? The answer to that question is sometimes, not always – it depends. So why do most mainstream sites use 13 as the minimum age? Basically, it's the age in which a minor can create an account without the online site being burdened with legal requirements governing information collection. Thirteen marks a threshold for easy entry.
As I mentioned above, not all sites are appropriate for a young person. It depends heavily on two main factors: mature content allowed on the site and treatment of that mature content (whether allowed or not). As parents, we can't rely solely on the stated age for use. We must review the site for content appropriateness taking into consideration the age and maturity level of our children. Here are some helpful tips:
- Review the Terms of Service to understand what content is allowed on the site. Does it include prohibitions against sexually explicit content? If not, the content will be available and minors will be exposed to it.
- If a site allows mature content, do they have protections in place minimizing the risk of exposure to minors? Protections would include tools such as a safe search filter and/or age gate to prevent access.
- Search the site using explicit terms or the acronym "NSFW," meaning not safe for work. What's being returned? Were you able to easily find a significant amount of mature content even though the site prohibits it? If so, this is a good indication that the site may not take steps to enforce their terms.
- Is there report abuse button for consumers to alert the site of potential violations? Report a violation to test the effectiveness of the tool.
We don't have to actively use the sites that our kids use; however, we need to understand what they are exposed to on these sites. Once our children are exposed to age-inappropriate content, we can't take those images, thoughts or words away.
• Friends of friends are actually strangers. Social networking enables you to share large amounts of information which could pose risks when shared with someone you don't really know.
• Be cautious of what you post and share with others. Once you share content - pictures, videos, stories, artwork or any other originally created work - with just one person online, you relinquish control over its potential distribution and use.
• Webcams are a window into your world so be careful of who you let in. Dress and behave as you would when having a friend over. Always remember images can be snagged and shared.
• Remember to have respect for each other - online or offline. It's not okay to say hurtful things to someone just because they can't see you and you can't see them. Every user ID or avatar represents a person so think before you post. Ask yourself how you would feel on the other side.
• Don't be a bystander. If you see someone who is being bullied, take action. And, if you don't feel as though you can intervene directly for fear of retribution or simply not knowing what to do, go seek the help of a trusted adult so that they can step in.
• If you are being bullied:
1) Keep the digital evidence (you may need it if the behavior escalates).
2) Block the bully (privacy preferences typically allow users to block others in chat, e-mail, instant messaging and even on social networks).
3) Tell a trusted adult.
4) Report it to the service provider (most have policies against harassment).
5) Report it to the school if it carries over into that environment.
6) If the bullying escalates to threats of physical harm, report it to law enforcement.
Learn more about bullying at: StopBullying.gov
Popular social networking sites tout that 94% of teens are online with 43% percent of their online profiles set to "OPEN;" meaning that anyone can view profile contents. One popular site asserts that they have 400 million active users with that number doubling every six months. Considering these staggering numbers, crime is only limited by the human imagination.
One growing trend involves "SEXTORTION;" a practice of coercing an individual into sending sexually explicit images/videos and then using those images as leverage to compel the originator to send additional images/videos or even engage in sexual conduct. So, how does this happen?
Often, someone (suspect) creates a fake profile or chat posing as someone else who then makes a request to "friend" or otherwise have contact with the individual. The suspect sends a picture or video depicting the fake persona and requests return pictures/videos. Believing that he/she is sending a picture to a known friend, the victim snaps a few revealing images and hits send. The suspect then begins to threaten the victim. The victim is told to send more compromising pictures or the suspect will post the previous images on a porn site. He/she will often send links to the porn site in order to prove that he/she is serious about the threat. In an effort to further control the victim, the suspect often gathers information from social networking sites and then threatens to send the compromising pictures to parents, friends, etc.
This problem is further exacerbated by the growing trend of video chatting with complete strangers. One recent case involved a young girl visiting her friend's home. The two girls decided to have some "fun" on the computer by striking up a video chat with an unknown person. The suspect began to flatter the young girls and encourage them to disrobe and pose in compromising positions. The girls agreed, believing their actions to be harmless, as they were communicating with a total stranger in another part of the country. The suspect captured the video images and began to threaten to disclose the girls' escapades if they did not comply with his demands. Fortunately, an engaged parent learned of the situation and contacted law enforcement. The suspect was eventually arrested and the investigation revealed an additional 25 victims. The suspect reported that his "sextortion" strategies were successful about 85% of the time.
While the internet has many positive benefits, evolving trends remind us of the need to remain vigilant in our efforts to protect our young people. This challenge is too great for any single individual. As such, we must continue to strengthen and educate our community of support. Working together, we will be much better prepared for the evolving dynamics of "Cyber-life."
Brought to you in Partnership with iKeepSafe
A Time to Take 25
In honor of National Missing Children's Day, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children recognizes Take 25, an annual campaign designed to raise awareness of of children's personal safety issues. Take 25 encourages parents, guardians, caregivers and others to spend time talking to kids about their personal safety at home, school, online or when they are just out and about.
I recently spoke at a conference on the risks that youth face online and found myself using the term 'embedded' to describe their relationship with technology. Why embedded? Simply put, their lives can't be separated into an 'online' or 'offline' state, but rather as always on and constantly connected. They live in the Digital World. This is a reality that we, as adults, have created through the rapid adoption and wide-spread use of connected devices, but a concept I don't believe we've fully embraced in terms of practice or infrastructure.
What do I mean by that? Specifically, while we've physically created this always on world - our homes are networked, our schools are wired, and our children are connected; our thought process and approach to personal responsibilities and safety are still very 'online' and 'offline.' Why are we still differentiating? The expectation of knowing and doing right from wrong doesn't alter through the use of technology, nor does personal safety or parental involvement.
The Internet has been mainstream since the mid-90's and has only become more ingrained in our lives through portability and ease of use. Yet, I find we are still discussing how to protect our children at a somewhat basic level. Overcoming this persistent lag will take the realization that we, as adults, must live in the digital world (we can no longer just visit or stay out altogether).
To embrace this mindset, we must embed those once Internet-specific actions, educational efforts and messaging into our everyday lives and the lives of today's children as we have the technology. Let's challenge ourselves - as parents, educators, and others who have a positive impact on young people – not to distinguish 'offline' from 'online,' but view it as one world. Why struggle with determining how we are going to fund or find time to teach our kids online safety when we should be teaching them how to be safe – aren't they one in the same? The structure is there - we parent, we educate, we monitor, we guide, we instill values – let's just tweak the infrastructure so to speak to reflect our digital world.
Up until a few years ago, I'd never heard much about teen dating abuse and violence and wrongly assumed it was mainly limited to adult relationships. I just didn't realize how prevalent it was among our youth. But, it starts somewhere and that is often with young people who are entering into relationships for the very first time. They often mimic the behaviors they've seen growing up. And, because they're new to relationships, young people can misinterpret controlling as caring, and not understand the warning signals of abuse until it is out of control. To understand the severity of the problem, the CDC reports that one in ten high school students has been purposefully hit, slapped or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend. This statistic only reflects physical violence. If we include emotional and verbal abuse in teen dating relationships, the stat jumps to one in three teens.
Digital Dating Abuse
A rising trend in dating abuse is the use of technology to harass, threaten and control the dating partner from a distance – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Through the use of technology such as cell phones, email, and social networking, the abuser can gain access into what once were safe havens for the abused partner - school, extra-curricular activities and home - to apply a relentless barrage of insults and/or demands that are not visible to parents or other adult caregivers. Digital dating abuse can include:
• Checking the dating partner's cell phone for outgoing and incoming calls, texts and images.
• Controlling the dating partner's friends on social networking sites.
• Demanding or stealing the dating partner's account passwords to keep tabs on them.
• Pressuring or demanding the dating partner share sexually explicit images and/or videos of themselves.
• Constantly texting the dating partner to find out where they are and what they are doing (the abused partner often feels obligated to have their cell phones with them at all times so they can respond quickly for fear of being punished).
• Insulting or threatening the dating partner through emails, texts, tweets, and even status updates.
Entertainment Software Rating Board
FBI Parent's Guide to Internet Safety
Internet Lingo Dictionary
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
National Children's Advocacy Center
Online Safety Quiz
Parental Controls and Online Child Protection study
Parent's Guide to Social Networking
Virtual Global Taskforce