Kids can easily be seduced into doing inappropriate things on-line when they are seeking love and acceptance in the wrong places. And the trend in social media technology for youth is increasingly photo-centric, wherein there is an expectation to share images, and new messaging apps (such as Kik and What’s App) are the preferred channels of communication which are easy to access without a mobile phone account. Since their cyber social realm is easy to conceal from parents, it is imperative that parents train youth to respond appropriately to inappropriate or disturbing requests. “Send this Instead” is a mobile app that offers great conversation and tools for youth to be prepared to respond to requests for sexually explicit or intimate photos of themselves.
Last week the Sacramento Sheriff’s Hi-Tech Crimes detectives arrested a 21-year-old man for possession of child pornography. According to the press release, he had been employed as a recreational aid at a Sacramento region elementary school and after school program. This arrest reminds us that bad actors can appear harmless and go undetected while they are actively searching for victims on and off line.
Detective James Williams, of the Sacramento Sheriff’s Department of Internet Crimes Against Children wants parents to know that predators target youth who are seeking love, affection and attention – for whatever the reason. “The child is searching for something and the predator is targeting this vulnerability,” he said. Williams says that parents ask him about recommendations for spying software, which he does not encourage. “The best approach is a positive one,” he said, explaining that spy software will not solve the problem if you are not involved with your children’s life. “It is easy for kids to keep secrets with the texting apps like Kik Messenger, which is not a part of the texting function,” he said.
According to Williams, the chances are great that a child will be approached by a predator to engage in a sexually explicit encounter. To help groom adolescents to decline with confidence requests for inappropriate photos, he recommends an app, “Send This Instead” which allows kids to send pithy photo replies to inappropriate requests for photos of themselves and/or others.
I like it because it is a great tool for constructive conversations about personal boundaries, especially when your adolescent is trying to “fit in” or responding to someone’s genuine interest in you. We must expect that our children will from time to time feel some serious pressure to conform to the world, so this app gives kids some great alternatives to stop a nefarious or malicious agenda of others to have central play in their life. (Romans 12:2)
Popular apps keep changing. Some current examples include: tumblr, tinder, twitter, snapchat, kik, keek, whatsapp, secret, vine, whisper and chat roulette.
Parent attention and resiliency
The attention our children seek, that the predators cleverly offer, is a genuine interest in who they are and a validation of their emotions and thoughts. The challenge is to engage the intellect and will of your child so that they can be prepared to confront a lie and manipulation when it happens. The difference between the predator and the parent in this regard, is motivation. The predator seeks to manipulate, exploit and control the child; while the parent’s motivation is to help the child learn how to set boundaries and not give up personal power to the agendas of bad actors.
“A lot of times the predators don’t lie about their age,” Williams said. “By the time they admit their older age the kids are hooked.” So the most important thing a parent can do to protect their child in their cyber-social realm is get interested in him or her as an individual. “Take a positive approach,” he said. “Get involved in your child’s life and what interests them. Adults will always behind in knowing the newest technology, so the best way to stay current is to stay involved.”
To learn more about building a family culture of transparency and open communication, go to: Fresh Start.
For guidelines regarding age-appropriate use of devices and apps, go to the free ebook: Cyber Rites of Passage.
Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and speaker on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber powered world. She is a mother of two grown sons, the author of The Authority In Me: The Power of Family Life in the Network Culture, produces The Sacramento Cyber Safety Examiner column on Examiner.com, and is the CyberParenting advisor on The Fish 103.9FM. Her new book, A Google World in the Garden of Eden: Five Family-Safe Strategies for Texting and Social Media is now available for PC and all eReader formats including Kindle, Nook, iPad.
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Jodie Stevens, hostess of The Fish Family Morning Show on 103.9FM The Fish offers insights and lessons learned about faith and recovery from addiction. Check out her blog, Genuine Life with Jodie Stevens, weekday mornings on the Family Morning Show.