Remember the days when being sneaky was just passing a note between class, folded in just the right way? Remember the days when talking behind someone’s back took GUTS because you had to say it out loud to someone else and hope you didn’t get caught/heard by the wrong person? Remember the days when a secret, took a really long time to spread to more than your immediate friends, if it spread at all? Well….that is NOT the world in which our children are growing up. Today youth have the power, speed and full weight of the internet, literally, at their finger tips. In seconds they can learn or have fun. But, just as quickly they can cause harm to themselves, their friends, do something “innocent” that holds the weight of a felony or become victims of a predator!! IN…AN…INSTANT!!!
Most of us spend quite a bit of time online, either for school, work or even to just be social. You assume it’s all as it appears on the surface. But, truly, honestly, it is not. All of us know the person who “overshares”. It’s easy to do, with posting pictures, videos and words. Online actions have real-world consequences and once you post something, you can’t ever take it back! But, the biggest pitfall is that real-world judgement and sense isn’t even being used by tons of adults, how are we expecting our kids to “get it” without having the hard discussions?
A few months ago a couple of leaders from our Cadette troop were on Facebook and came across the profile picture of a little girl (because we, as adults, still want to think our 12 year olds are little girls) whose profile photo scared the begeevus out of them. Had her name not been with the picture, she was an unrecognizable, gorgeous, 19 year old! The make up, the duck face, the fact that we could see the profile because no privacy settings had been applied…all of it….just didn’t sit well with any of us. Add to that, THIS video about the dangers of Social Media, came out the same week. Needless to say, SOMETHING, had to be done.
Thankfully, we CARE about about our girls and really wanted to do something to help them protect themselves in a way we never had to think about when we were their age.
We contacted the Public Information Coordinator at our local Police Department and asked if there was a way we could set up some time with someone, ANYONE, at the PD who specializes in internet crimes. The thought was if we had someone whose job it is to work cases where being unsafe on the internet leads to trouble, it would “scare” the girls into LISTENING (and hopefully THINKING before acting) moreso than if it were just another topic they had to hear from their leaders/friends’ moms. What we got in turn was ever so much better than expectations!!
Heidi, our contact, recruited three people at GJPD who spent quite a bit of time working on a presentation for our girls. We were extremely fortunate to spend quality time with Mary, a PST (Police Service Technician) and technology expert in the Investigations division, Officer Bavor, a school resource officer, and Meghan, a PST in the Investigations division that focuses on missing people and runaways.
We had discussion on passwords, screen names, device settings and online privacy. The girls got some lessons on the dangers, and legal ramifications, of sexting, cyberbullying and even signs of stalking and domestic violence through electronics!
Statistics (how often something gets forwarded, the number of young people with devices with no privacy settings enabled, the number of crimes against children through use of social media, the long-term and LEGAL repercussions of doing something “funny” now, etc, etc, etc……) are more shocking than you can even imagine and there is NO way we can adequately express this. There are more social media sites, gaming locations, chat rooms, etc than any one of us in the room could imagine. There seems to be something new every day and half of the stuff they talked about most of us had never even heard of. So, how do we protect our kids if we don’t even know where they are spending their time??? We are sooooo glad we encouraged parents to attend this meeting with their daughters, on the urging of our presenters. So much information to absorb and no way to relay in any way as impactful as having the information come at you first hand….scenarios based on actual investigations, conversation with an officer who spends his time all day, every day with kids our own girls’ ages, public servants whose job it is to protect our kids telling us as parents how to do a better job at doing just that, too!
The easiest way to summarize what we learned is:STOP-THINK-CONNECT
Take security precautions, understand the consequences of your actions and behaviors and enjoy the benefits of the Internet.
STOP: Before you use the Internet, take time to understand the risks and learn how to spot potential problems.
THINK: Take a moment to be certain the path ahead is clear. Watch for warning signs and consider how your actions online could impact your safety, or your family’s.
CONNECT: Enjoy the Internet with greater confidence, knowing you’ve taken the right steps to safeguard yourself and your computer.
Protect yourself and help keep the web a safer place for everyone.
The biggest message and take away is that being online, connected to devices, is an inevitability of our lives. It is super easy to overshare, mess up, embarrass or get into serious trouble. There are risks and this is a truth we can not deny. The best tool we have for safety is COMMUNICATION and our BRAINS!! Kids need to talk to their parents (a trusted adult) at every step of their learning and access. Parents need to be comfortable having the hard conversations!
Of course our troop earns their Internet Safety badge, and touched on several of the topics for their Journey work, for sitting through this program but what they learned is ever so much more important than a piece of iron-on fabric and hopefully it sticks with them FOREVER!
It is our understanding that the presentation was not just an “off the shelf – this is what we do for EVERYONE” presentation and surprisingly we were one of the first (if not the first) youth organization, in our town, to ask for it. There is absolutely NO WAY we could have done it nearly as informatively, succinctly and impressively. We are extremely grateful to these members of the GJPD who took time out of their busy schedules to prepare the presentation for us and for taking more than 3 hours out of their personal time, on a weekend, to spend with us!
Even in an ever changing, technologically advancing world, kids are still kids…it is our job to protect this innocence!
Parents were given a couple of handouts to help continue these discussions with their girls. Resources can be found at OnGuardOnline.gov and stop.think.connect