There is nothing more important than keeping our kids safe. In an ever-changing technological world this goal can feel elusive at times. That is why I was thrilled that Wayland Cares, our community based coalition dedicated to helping youth make healthy decisions, recently brought presenter Katie Greer to speak with our middle school students, high school students, and the parent community (through an evening presentation). Greer, who has worked as an intelligence agent for Massachusetts State Police and as the Director of Internet Safety for the District Attorney’s office, had important messages to offer. Greer focused on issues of privacy, safety, apps to avoid, cyberbullying and the permanence of our digital footprints.
Following the presentation, I spent a valuable session with Mr. Large, Mr. Longnecker and our sixth grade homeroom in TAG debriefing the assembly. I decided, what better way to share the big ideas that Katie Greer communicated than to offer you what the kids took away, in their own words.
“Turn on privacy settings. Turn off Geotagging.”
On the privacy front Greer advocated for students to utilize tools on the phone to maximize privacy settings. She opened our eyes to the worlds of geotagging, which on most phones are automatically set to “on.” Geotagging allowed apps to pinpoint one’s location from wherever an app was used. She urged the audience to turn off the geotagging on most apps (camera, facebook, instagram, etc.). It is good advice for adults too, to only allow location services for sites like waze (a GPS app). Controlling who sees what information is an important life skill and can go a long way to keep students out of harm’s way.
“You should not have a social media account under 13 years of age.”
Greer drove home the message that it is illegal for anyone under 13 to have social media accounts (including facebook, instagram and snapchat). I was surprised to learn from her that this age restriction is critical because police can’t investigate crimes in the same cooperative way with the social media sites when children are illegally using accounts under age 13. It truly is a safety issue.
“Don’t talk to strangers on the internet.”
Our kids should never be communicating with strangers. This includes online gaming. The risk is too high. Greer offered students a good rule of thumb when it came to “friending” and communicating on the internet. Only connect with:
- Kids from your school
- Friends who know you or have been to your house
- People whose parents you know
“Yik Yak, Snapchat, Ask.FM, Flinch and Omegle are very, very bad websites and apps.”
Greer shared apps that in her professional opinion students should avoid:
Ask.fm & Yik Yak – You may recall me writing about ask.fm in previous years. It is a site through which people ask anonymous questions. Yik Yak is of the same ilk. If you have spent any time on these sites, you will quickly see how horrible people can be to one another online. Posting hateful comments and unkind banter is the norm there.
Kik – This is a platform that allows one to text friends, groups or strangers. It is just not safe. Kids need to continue to hear the message, “don’t talk to strangers – even online.”
Omegle and Flinch – These two sites are designed for live video chatting with strangers. As you may imagine the potential danger of this is extreme. The live video feed makes one’s location immediately accessible through GPS coordinates and this has resulted in some horrific crimes against youth. With our older students Greer shared powerful examples of dangerous people pretending to be teens online.
Snapchat - Greer talked about how snapchat can be used positively, but she has seen it too frequently used in unkind ways or for sexting, which still is considered child pornography – a felony. She emphasized that while in theory snapchats “disappear,” screen shots of posts can be captured and re-posted. What you put on the web is not private.
“Don’t Cyberbully.” “Send only kind messages.”
Cyberbullying was another topic of conversation. Greer shared examples of tragic outcomes that can result from unkindness in the online world, and the damage cyberbullying can do by contributing to depression and even suicide.
“Everything you do on the internet leaves a footprint that does not go away. Make good choices.”
Despite the misuses of the internet, the worldwide web has the potential to be a sea of positivity. Greer referenced the “Ice Bucket Challenge,” which raised 220 million dollars for ALS research through the power of social media. She encouraged students to leave positive digital footprints in their online pursuits.
Parenting in the digital age is a tall order. As parents I encourage you to engage in an ongoing, open dialogue with your children about online expectations, safety, and respect. Actively monitor your child’s online presence. Let LARK (Legal Appropriate Responsible and Kind) be your family’s guide.
Helpful Resources for parenting in a digital age:
How to Protect Your Children on their Smartphones and
Common sense media Cell Phone Parenting