VINTON– “Talk to your kids” was the message that Detectives Chris Froeschl and Brandon Hill shared at the Vinton Library during an informative presentation on “Internet Safety for Parents, Guardians, and Communities.” This was the first time the program has been presented by the Vinton Police.
The detectives introduced parents to the NetSmartz.org website which has a wealth of information including age-based videos for young children through tweens and teens to alert families to the dangers they may face nowadays with so much technology available.
Computers are not the only way to access the Internet. Parents may not always be aware that children can connect to the Internet through cell phones, school laptops, MP3 players, gaming devices, E-readers, tablets, the TV, flash drives, Blu-Ray players, and even new technology available in vehicles.
Froeschl said the Internet is a part of modern life that’s not going away. Families need to be aware of what programs and apps their children might be using. He also said it’s a good idea to give a great deal of thought as to when a child is mature enough to begin using social media like Facebook and cell phones with data. It might even be a good idea to restrict children from using electronic devices in their rooms behind closed doors.
NetSmartz.org is a program available from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children organization. Its purpose is to help children and their families make appropriate choices in Internet usage.
Safety and security issues the officers covered included maintaining privacy with passwords and email addresses, what constitutes inappropriate content, identity theft, sexting, cyberbulling, and “netiquette.”
The detectives emphasized the importance of setting boundaries with children—being more parent than friend–and monitoring the use of electronic devices of all types which provide Internet access.
Families should establish expectations for Internet use, and set consequences for misuse. Keep control of children’s passwords and account information. Review the comments and photographs they post.
The detectives advised parents to update routers to newer ones that have more controls available and which monitor devices throughout the home.
And in the interest of home security, no one in the family should announce on social media that the family is on vacation or even post photos from their vacation until they return home.
Froeschl told those present that children should be taught that while most people have good intentions, there are people who can’t be trusted. The purpose is not to make children paranoid, but to make them cautious.
Parents and guardians should give their children tools to use to combat safety and security violations if and when they happen. They should be taught to turn off the screen, use the “Back” button, tell an adult, and report the incident to the website or app.
There should be conversations about not sharing personal information online and never, ever, agreeing to meet someone first encountered online.
As for cyberbullying—it has become more and more an issue. The detectives said they frequently receive complaints. It is much easier to bully online anonymously than face to face, and harder to stop.
Much to the horror of parents, sexting is increasingly common, especially among older teenagers who may want to “impress a crush,” gain attention, or just be funny. Parents should advise their children that once they post something online, they lose all control of what they posted and it belongs to the Internet forever. Postings may influence their futures as potential employers check social media sites on a regular basis.
Encounters with, or use or creation of pornography are not the only concerns—exposure to or postings of excessive violence, hate speech, and risky or illegal behaviors may have a lasting effect on children. The detectives said that parents should remind their children that it is hard to rebuild a reputation impacted by bad choices on the Internet.
The detectives discussed specific apps that may lead to the victimization of children—Snapchat, KIK, Instagram, ooVoo, and even the familiar Facebook–absent parent supervision and advice.
While police make every effort to assist with online abuses or crime, the Internet is difficult to regulate, especially when many apps originate outside of the parameters of the United States and US laws and law enforcement.
Froeschl recommended that parents choose family-based cell phone plans that allow for advanced techniques in security and privacy settings and for monitoring children’s calls, texts, and data usage. If cell phone rules are broken, it’s not cruel to hand the child a basic flip phone to use for a time.
Hill discussed the case of Nicole Lovell in Blacksburg who was lured to her death when using the KIK anonymous messaging service, to meet a stranger.
More information on Internet security is available by calling Detective Froeschl at 283-7052 or Detective Hill at 283-7032.