PLEASANT PRAIRIE – When it comes to the Internet, parents who constantly communicate with their children while engaging, guiding and monitoring them can help keep them safe.
Talking to kids and knowing what they’re getting into is the best way to prevent many of the dangers they may encounter in the virtual world, according to Kenosha Police Officer Tyler Cochran.
Cochran is part of the department’s Community Safety Team and is known to many as “Friendly Officer”. Each year, he teaches more than 10,000 Kenosha Unified students about safety topics ranging from bicycles to protection from strangers. He said 90% of all fourth and fifth graders have cell phones. However, when he asks them if their parents monitor their activities, he hears an alarming trend.
“Maybe half, less than half,” said Cochran, who led an hour-long presentation Thursday on internet safety for parents at Pleasant Prairie Elementary. It was sponsored by the district’s Community School Relations Office and was the first in-person family activity night for the elementary in two years.
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At a conference, he overheard a presenter ask, “Would you ever let your child into his room with an adult magazine?” “Of course you wouldn’t do that,” Cochran said. “But what do we do with the telephone?” It’s much worse than that. Here is the phone. And now they are alone in their room. There are so many things we need to be aware of.
Evolution of technology
Cochran realizes “as parents, it’s almost impossible for us to keep up with all this technology.”
Apps, such as the popular Snapchat, for example, do not protect against young children (13 is the minimum age) and a user simply scrolls through a calendar and can practically fake their age. Snapchats, or sent photos, also disappear after all recipients have viewed them and are also designed to be deleted after 30 days if unopened. However, not everything disappears, as users can take screenshots or photos of photos.
“And they can spread. Especially, at the fifth-year college level, we see a lot of things happening,” he said.
Social media mapping systems also allow kids to follow each other, Cochran said.
“So they use it to see where all their friends are,” he said, referring to an app called Snap Map, which can monitor their speed, for example when traveling by car. “And it can happen at the hands of everyone showing their location.”
According to Cochran, such apps have been used in the county by people who harass others.
“It’s very important that if your child uses this equipment, make sure they turn it off,” he said. “They shouldn’t share (their location) with anyone other than you. Only you know where they are.
Facebook “for old people”
Facebook is no longer the dominant social media network among children.
“They laugh and they say it’s just for old people,” Cochran said.
Instead, most use TikTok, a video-sharing app that allows the user to create 15-second videos, and is the most widely used in the world. At the end of 2021, 656 million users downloaded the application, followed by Instagram (545 million), Facebook (416 million), WhatsApp (395 million), Telegram (329 million), Snapchat (327 million), Zoom (300 million ), Messenger (268 million), CapCut (255 million) and Spotify (203 million), according to Apptopia, which tracks app marketing performance.
Cochran said apps aren’t all bad, and he even found some tips saved on TikTok to be helpful — like a wall stud finder. But apps like TikTok monitor online behavior, creating a virtual “For You” page to personalize user interests. For parents, this should cause concern, especially if children intentionally or unintentionally indulge in inappropriate content.
“If your kid has TikTok, watch that,” he said. “So if you see your child on TikTok and it’s very inappropriate stuff, there’s a very, very good chance your child is watching things they shouldn’t be watching when you’re not there.”
The most important thing is for parents to keep lines of communication open with their children.
“The big thing that I want to make sure everyone realizes is being able to have that dialogue with your kids,” he said.
Cochran said protecting children on the internet also doesn’t mean prohibiting all use if they make a mistake.
“I don’t necessarily recommend if something goes wrong like that, just take it down and say ‘You’re never going to get YouTube again, because they’re going to find other ways to get it, whether it’s through a device. ‘friends… whatever they may find ways,’ he said. ‘(Do it that way) they know they can come to you.’
Among the red flags, he said, parents can check children who use the Internet for physical health or loss of sleep; always in social contact with family and friends; engage and succeed in school; continue to pursue hobbies and interests “in all their forms” and have fun while learning through digital media.
Cochran said parents need to realize the reality is that “our kids are going to be on this.”
“So we have to find a way to have that balance,” he said.
Parents with additional questions about internet safety can contact Cochran at 262-653-4210 or by email at email@example.com.
For more information on digital media safety and education, go to commonsensemedia.org, which offers a breakdown of age-appropriate Internet and media topics that parents can discuss with their children.