It hits closer to home than some might think.
Many have read about Audrie Pott, the 15-year-old Saratoga High School student who took her life in 2012, a week after inappropriate photographs of her were posted online. What some may not know, according to Los Altos School Resource Officer Katie Krauss, is that she died at her mother’s home in Los Altos, after posting suicidal messages that no one reported.
In the past year, Krauss said she has conducted multiple investigations of sexting (posting sexual texts or explicit photos) and several of child pornography involving juveniles.
“The No. 1 issue I’m seeing is sexting – even as young as fifth and sixth grades,” she said.
Using a presentation developed by Yahoo Inc. and the Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety, Krauss and Los Altos Police Detective Abe Velasco recently addressed a group of 28 parents at Loyola School to encourage them to proactively promote Internet responsibility in their children.
The online safety talk was part of Loyola’s Spirit Week, aimed at addressing developmental assets in line with Project Cornerstone, a YMCA Silicon Valley Initiative designed to support the healthy development of children. Loyola School parent Valerie Klazura organized the event.
Even at the elementary level, students are tech savvy. Loyola School Principal Kimberly Attell said that in the past two years, she’s noticed that “our children are really plugged in.”
According to studies cited in the presentation, the average U.S. household owns 11-20 devices accessible to the Internet. The average 8- to 18-year-old spends 7.5 hours a day using media, more time than he or she spends in school or with parents. The average teen sends 2,200 texts a month, or approximately 80 a day. And Krauss noted a study citing that one in every five teens in chat rooms has been sexually solicited.
Problem online behaviors, Krauss said, include sending risqué photos and messages, online bullying, communicating locations to strangers and cheating.
Tech safety tips
With today’s availability of smartphones, computers, tablets, Internet-accessible gaming and more – what can you do?
“You can’t tell your kids, ‘You can’t go online,’” said Velasco, adding that it’s “not realistic.”
Krauss and Velasco offered parents the following tips.
• Talk to your children about the technology they’re using and become savvy. Learn the applications, the texting lingo, etc.
• Know your children’s passwords.
• Check all technology on a regular basis (for example, for cellphones, check pictures, call logs, texts, browsing history and applications).
• Check privacy settings on sites like Facebook every few months. Turn off geolocation options on all devices.
• Review parental controls and oversight options.
• Have media turned off at night.
• Charge the equipment in a common room (not a bedroom).
• Encourage children to report abuse (for example, cyberbullying and sexting).
• Remind students to think before they post. Digital posts have a long life. They can affect reputations and have an impact in the future. Krauss suggested a good rule of thumb for photos: “If you wouldn’t want grandma to see it, don’t send it.”
• Sign a family media contract.
The bottom line, Krauss said, is to “be active in your kid’s online world.”
For more information, visit safely.yahoo.com, commonsensemedia.org or netsmartz.org.