Parents cringe when they hear hair-raising news reports of vulnerable young people lured to their death by people hidden behind a screen; people who act like their friends, but are demented enemies. Or the people who simply like to bully, taunt, tease and belittle our youth on the latest and greatest social media apps.
Teens know how to hide and disguise their "naughty" apps behind what parents think are innocent smartphone applications. Example: AppLocker. Once installed, a teen can place apps inside a folder and apply password-protection to that folder. Mom will see the icon for "AppLocker" on the device, but she won't be able to access it without a password. On the other hand, when the teen launches "AppLocker" and enters the password, all "hidden" apps are shown and can be launched and used.
Then there's Hide It Pro, Vault Hide and Hide Pictures in Vaulty. Or, for the less techy teen, they can simply put inappropriate apps in a folder that is mislabeled. Are you going to be suspicious of a "homework" folder?
Help, I need a Net Nanny
Feeling a bit uninformed at this point? You are not alone. In this fast-paced world even the best- intentioned, most informed parent needs a Net Nanny. Most kids are not malicious (just invincible in their minds), and open dialogue is imperative. These savvy kids of ours also need to know we parents won't allow ourselves to be in the Dark Ages when it comes to social media.
Because Mt. Juliet Middle School Professional Guidance Counselor Debi Martin knows this all too well, she recently invited parents to attend a special program offered through Homeland Security called Project iGuardian. It's from HS's Security Investigations Division (HSI) in Nashville.
"It was provided to educate parents about the dangers of the online community, as we all know it can affect their children," said this veteran counselor who works with middle-schoolers daily on a myriad of levels.
She said in the past few years, social media issues have become more prevalent at her school, as well as every other school in the nation. It's the nature of the beast in today's society with nearly every tween and teen the owner of a smartphone that gives them Facebook, e-mail, chat, Facetime and endless communication apps.
Special Agent Dennis Fetting recently presented the program that was just for parents, not teens. It was presented first to the system's counselors and other faculty. Martin was so impressed, she requested Fetting present to her school parents.
HIS partnered with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to create much of the presentation.
"The initiative is designed to inform youth, parents and educators about the risks that children face in the online environment," Fetting said. "It also aims to arm parents with knowledge and resources to help protect their children."
At the program, there were example scenarios based on legal investigations to help parents, teacher and other law informant better understand how children can become victimized online.
The three main risks Fetting discussed were: online predators and social media, revealing too much, and cyberbullying
The online predators topic covered the new and growing trend of "sextortion" where "minors are blackmailed after sending compromising photos or videos."
In the revealing too much topic, Fetting discussed how personal and private information shared through texts, images or videos may attract unwanted "attention from cyberbullies or online predators."
"This may also lead to serious offline consequences at school and with the law," Fetting said.
The cyberbullying topic was reviewed, and Fetting discussed the use of Internet technology or mobile technology, such as cell pones, to bully or harass someone.
Martin said the presentation was informative for parents, and many expressed appreciation for the opportunity to attend.
"The staff at MJMS wants to support parents in their efforts to protect their children against the risks that the online environment holds," she said. "The school counselors from Wilson County were afforded the opportunity to hear Agent Fetting speak at one of their county-wide meetings, and Principal Tim Bell and myself wanted to offer the parents the opportunity to hear his talk."
Parent and Mt. Juliet Elementary kindergarten teacher Tammy Shipley knows you can't learn too much about this fast-paced, chameleon phenomenon called social media.
"Although my husband and I try to be very vigilant in being aware of internet/social media dangers, it's scary how quickly new ones come about," she said. "We appreciated the program to help us gain insight as to how to keep our own children safe as well as helping educators, like myself, keep our students safe."
The Project iGuardian website under the umbrella of HS is very informative.
"HSI is committed to combatting the sexual exploitation of children; as such, investigations of child sexual exploitation are among HSI's primary investigative priorities. The sexual abuse of children impacts the most vulnerable segment of our society," says the website. "HSI recognizes the importance of education and community awareness regarding the dangers of online activity. Project guardian aims to counter a disturbing fact: many online child predators are able to find victims online because children are not aware of how dangerous online environments can be."
There's a lot to deal with on the Internet such as cyberbullies, privacy settings, gossip and even creeps. Some good tips for parents to tell their teens include:
-Think before you click
-Don't meet in person with someone you met online who you do not know
-Treat people online as you would in person: be polite!
-Don't post inappropriate pictures or personal information online
For much more information on this subject go to ice.gov/cyber-crimes/iguardian.
Writer Laurie Everett can be reached at email@example.com