When it comes to teen safety online, education is key
KINGMAN - The audience was small but the message was big - the ubiquitous presence of technology warrants constant education about the intricacies of social media websites and the necessity of parental involvement.
Arizona Attorney General Community Outreach Coordinator Brittany Jick travels throughout the state educating communities about identity theft, consumer fraud and human trafficking, and stopped at White Cliffs Middle School in Kingman in March to educate parents about Internet safety and security.
A majority of the presentation was devoted to informing parents about the numerous social media websites and smartphone and tablet applications.
Many parents may know Facebook and Twitter, but aren't as aware of newer photo and video sharing, chatrooms (yes, they still exist) and dating sites.
"Parents, grandparents and guardians don't know what some of these apps are," Jick said in reference to newer apps like Snapchat, Tinder, Whisper and Omegle.
Snapchat: A photo and video messaging app that allows viewers to see a photo or video for up to 10 seconds before it disappears. Many kids don't realize that cellphone screenshots can be taken and passed on after the photo is deleted from the app.
Tinder: Considered a "hot or not" type dating app.
Whisper: Allows anonymous messaging
Omegle: Another app that allows anonymous talk, text and video chatting.
"A lot of these apps are associated with bullying and harassment," Jick said. She went on to clarify the difference. "Bullying is persistent and takes place over time. Harassment is more isolated."
Tonia Cobanovich, principal at White Cliffs Middle School, mentioned the frustration faced by teachers regarding the prevalence of technology and its relation to bullying.
"I've had parents bring print-outs of messages their kids have received asking me, 'What we can do about it?" she said. "It's not just at this school but all the schools (in Kingman). They're interconnected."
Jick had statistics about who has access to social media.
"There are 7 billion people in the world. One billion have Facebook or Instagram. That means 1 billion people can see your stuff if you don't set your privacy settings," she warned.
She warned how anonymity can pose a danger.
"People on apps and social media sites have screen names and use them for bullying. There are also child predators out there," Jick said.
She talked about the ease of setting up a fake profile and highlighted some of the lingo used by pedophiles used to elude monitoring by law enforcement - the more common characters being 'asl'- age, sex, location.
"I've had so many kids raise their hands and say they've seen that on an app," Jick said.
She talked about how parents need to stay updated on how their kids' phone's work. Most apps are password-protected and some can be hidden behind normal phone features such as a calculator or calendar.
Parents need to remember that they can be held accountable for questionable or illegal activity.
"Kids think that with some of these apps, they can delete something and it goes away forever. Law enforcement can go back and find a photo from when a social media site was invented."
Parents need to play a strong role in what their kids are doing online and on smartphones.
"Sit down with kids and learn how the apps work. Find out if they have photo and video sharing capabilities," Jick said. "If you sit down with them, the kids will show you how they work."
Parent Rupal Patel, who has a son in the sixth grade, expressed her concern.
"There's a certain age for certain things. Many of these kids don't know what they're getting into," she said. "If you're a parent thinking of getting your kid a smartphone, you have the responsibility to learn what's out there. There are resources to teach you. Take advantage of those resources."