If you take the often suspect judgment of teenagers and mix it with the technology of smartphones, social media and the Internet, it can be a recipe for disaster.
Just ask the parents of the girls who were duped into giving their social media passwords to a 17-year-old Harrison High School boy earlier this year.
That boy eventually hacked into the girls’ web pages and found nude pictures, which he promptly swiped and reposted to Internet porn sites.
The only real safety net against this type of deviant behavior among tech-savvy teens is for parents to keep a close eye on what their child is doing online, experts say. And that includes cellphones.
The way people communicate has vastly changed in the last 10 years, said Detective R.B. Smith with Cobb Police Department’s technology crimes squad.
“Instant contact is the new norm via the Internet on mobile devices,” he said.
With the popularity of social media websites like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Flickr and Instagram ever growing, technology has evolved, and users of all ages are able to instantly post photos, videos or messages to the web.
“The problems generally arise when the message or image has not been given thoughtful consideration,” Smith said. “Before you know it, the thoughtless communication goes viral, is reposted, re-tweeted and there is no stopping distribution.”
Think before hitting ‘send’
When it comes to children, Smith said he believes it’s up to parents to teach their children to think before they hit send and be mindful of their communications.
He also recommends parents setting boundaries, putting all computers in a public space in the home and taking time to sit down and talk to their children about the dangers.
Dr. Patti Agatston, a counselor with the Cobb County School District’s Prevention and Intervention Center, preaches the same line of caution.
“There are tools from technology that can prevent (technology abuse), but nothing beats real world conversation,” she said.
Agatston said it’s important to talk to children about the harm an embarrassing message, photo or explicit conversation online could do.
“Have clear conversations with your kids that if someone is trying to flatter you and comes upon a photo of you and you don’t know this person and they’re asking for photos, that should be a warning sign,” she said.
Children should also be reminded that anything shared online or by a mobile device can be made public and permanent.
An example of this was revealed last week when the Harrison High student was arrested on multiple charges of child cruelty and distribution of child porn. He allegedly befriended other teenagers online, using a false photography business to gain their trust and get his victims to offer up passwords to sites that contained nude photos.
Setting clear boundaries
Robin Rohrbach, whose daughter is a sixth grader at Lost Mountain Middle School, which feeds into Harrison, said she hasn’t been afraid to have these serious talks with her daughter, who got her first phone for Christmas.
“We are pretty strict with the phone,” she said. “She knows that her phone is a privilege. It’s not a given that she can have it at all times.”
Rohrbach said she also hasn’t allowed her daughter to get on Facebook, but she does have Instagram. Rohrbach makes sure she has access to her daughter’s Instagram account and set clear parameters about what’s appropriate and inappropriate.
“Unfortunately, sixth graders are still learning about that, and they don’t always remember it’s going out to other people,” she said. “I tell my daughter that not everybody needs to know that you went on a jog yesterday.”
She also feels like her daughter understands the safety precautions and the consequences.
“I think deep down she appreciates that we are strict and care about it, but she isn’t always happy with that,” she said.
Rohrbach said she will also check her daughter’s text messages at random for their content.
“I’m just very in her business,” she said. “My job as a parent is to protect her and teach her what is appropriate.”
Many of her friends are on the same page in regards to how they are handling the mobile devices and computer use with their young children.
“I’ve told friends of mine if they ever see anything inappropriate to please tell me and I’d do the same,” she said. “It’s like it’s a village here.”
She believes children need these boundaries.
“Be open and talk to your children and let them know that there are boundaries in life,” she said. “I believe it’s better to be strict and have your kids frustrated with you than to be really flexible and have issues like the Harrison High School incident.”
When speaking to her daughter about the arrest, Rohrbach said she pointed out that while the boy was at fault, so were the young ladies who posted nude photos of themselves online in the first place.
“We talked about how horrible it was that that boy did that but also talked about the responsibility of what the girls did,” she said. “It was irresponsible for those girls to have those photos on their phones or pages.”