Our kids love electronics and surfing the web, but how do we keep them safe? Stefanie Thomas, a children’s safety advocate for the Seattle Police Department, offers some ideas in the King 5 video and the Q & A that follows.
Q: Now that parents have caught up on Facebook, here comes Snapchat. How is it different than social media tools adults are familiar with?
Stefanie: Snapchat is an app for sending pictures, but the photos being sent on it self-destruct after 10 seconds. So, kids are using it to "sext" or send inappropriate photos, thinking that they will be gone once and for all. But, of course, people can take screen shots of those photos. It's a tool that has become big among 13-to-24-year-olds this past year, and it is problematic because of the child self-exploitation as well as child pornography. There are 200 million "snaps" a day now, used by 5 million active users.
Q: Some school districts are checking out tablets and electronics that are to be used for classwork. Are there risks with that?
Stefanie: Yes. For instance, we had a case where a teenage girl was on Google chat while at school with an offender. She was using a laptop that was issued by the school. So, the question is, who is responsible for protecting that child? I don't like hearing that teachers and school clubs use social media for disseminating information. It's ridiculous to force kids into this technology when they don't need to be there. I don't think teachers are always making sure kids understand the boundaries and risks when they are given these devices.
Q: Are parents sometimes naïve about the risks?
Stefanie: Yes. They think that because they live in a certain neighborhood or suburb that nothing can happen to their child. But obviously that information their kids are putting out is going everywhere. Parents also should think about what kind of pictures they are posting on their own Facebook pages. Even if a picture is appropriate, it can be downloaded by someone with the wrong intentions and manipulated to be used in an inappropriate way. My philosophy is “less is best” when putting pictures and information online. Parents need to think hard about how much they are exposing their kids.
Q: There’s so much to keep track of that some parents may be tempted to “check out,” right?
Stefanie: Parents need to make the effort. Stay up on technology news as much as they can. For instance, just a couple of weeks ago, Facebook announced it is now using facial recognition software. Parents may not be able to know everything, but for sure they should set boundaries. No kid should be allowed to have their phone in their room at night. A parent might set a 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. curfew then store the phone somewhere the child can't get to it. And when your child is going to someone else's house, it is uncomfortable to comment on another parent's rules, but you can say to the other parent what your values and rules are when it comes to their electronics. Learn more: ParentMap will host a lecture on kids, teens and technology with Internet safety expert Katie Greer Wednesday Sept. 25 at University Prep in Seattle. Get tickets here!