In the brave new digital world, most children are natives, while their parents are immigrants from the land of analog. Yet, it’s the immigrants who must teach the natives how to be safe in their own land.
That is the message Tammy Jones brought this month at the East Baton Rouge Parish Greenwell Springs Branch Library. The 45-minute program was designed to help make parents aware of the dangers of that digital world and how they can help their children stay clear of its rougher neighborhoods.
How rough? One-third of children ages 9-17 are victims of cyber-bullying, Jones said. Less than half of them will tell their parents. A shocking number of kids in this age group — 22 percent of girls, 18 percent of boys — will send nude photos of themselves electronically.
How does a parent cope? The first step, Jones said, is recognizing that children can communicate with friends in so many ways — mobile phones, game consoles, webcams, to name a few.
“It’s not just the computer that plugs in the wall,” she said.
And, since keeping children out of the digital world is impossible, Jones recommends parents sit down with them and explain their expectations. Internet safety expert Tim Woda, who began focusing on this topic when one of his children was contacted by an Internet predator, created an Internet and mobile safety pledge. It includes agreements not to give out their contact information or use chat rooms without parental permission, not to respond to digital contact from people they don’t know, not arrange to meet people in person that they met online or post photos of themselves without checking with a parent.
The complete pledge can be found at http://timwoda.com/2009/12/12/internet-mobile-safety-pledge.
A pledge, of course, doesn’t end parental involvement. Parents need to be observant for such common problems as cyber-bullying. A basic definition: using digital devices to spread rumors or gossip, send photos of a person without his or her consent, threatening someone or assuming that person’s identity.
Some warning signs that a child is being cyber-bullied include the child no longer using technology, showing nervousness when messages arive or withdrawing from family and friends.
Although cyber-bullying may not include physical threats, it isn’t to be taken lightly.
“They don’t get a break,” said Louise Moore, who assisted Jones at the presentation. “We got bullied at school, but when we went home we got a break until the next day at school. These kids are bullied all day long, and only four out of 10 are going to tell their parents. Are your children going to be one of those four or one of those six? It’s up to us to educate them.”
Children also need to learn that posting inappropriate things online can have long-term consequences, giving a bad impression to potential employers or college admissions officers. Poorly chosen screen names also can attract unsavory online characters.
Sexting (sending nude or semi-nude photos of oneself by mobile phone) by youths is more common than most adults would like to think. Moore said that a 14-year-old niece who was living with her sent a nude photo of herself to a boy, then began showing the signs of being a cyber-bullying victim. Moore’s daughter, who lives in California, became aware of it and alerted her.
“That’s how I found out my niece was sending nude pictures of herself,” Moore said. “She wasn’t going to tell me. People at my church knew about the pictures, and they didn’t tell me.”