WATCH NOW: Kenosha Police Officer’s Presentation Allows Parents to Talk to Their Kids About Internet Safety | Course





PLEASANT PRAIRIE – When it comes to the Internet, parents who consistently communicate, involve, guide and monitor their children can help keep them safe.

Talking to kids and knowing what they’re getting into is the best way to avoid many of the dangers they can face in the virtual world, according to Kenosha Police Officer Tyler Cochran.

Cochran is part of the department’s community safety team and is known by many as ‘Officer Friendly’. Each year, he teaches more than 10,000 Kenosha Unified students on safety topics, from cycling to protecting against strangers. He said 90 percent of all fourth and fifth graders have a cell phone. However, when he asks them if their parents are monitoring their activities, he hears an alarming trend.

“Maybe half, less than half,” said Cochran, who led a one-hour Internet safety presentation for parents at Pleasant Prairie Elementary Thursday. Sponsored by the district’s Community School Relations Office, it was the first in-person primary school family activity evening in two years.

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At a conference, he heard a presenter ask, “Would you ever let your child go to his room with an adult magazine?” “Of course you wouldn’t,” Cochran said. ‘But what do we do with the telephone? It’s much worse than that. Here’s the phone. And now they are alone in their bedroom. There is so much we need to be aware of.”

Changing technology

Cochran realizes “as parents, it’s almost impossible for us to keep up with all this technology.”

For example, apps like the popular Snapchat don’t protect against use by younger children (13 is the minimum age), and a user simply flips through a calendar and can virtually fake their age. Snapchats, or photos sent, also disappear after all recipients view them and are also designed to be deleted after 30 days if they are unopened. Not everything goes away, though, as users can take screenshots or photos from photos.

“And they can get spread. We see that happening a lot, especially at the fifth through high school level,” he said.

In card systems on social media networks, children also 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 track their speed, for example when they’re traveling in a car. “And that could end up in the hands of anyone who shows their location.”

According to Cochran, such apps have been used in the province by people who have stalked others.

“It’s very important that if your child is using this stuff, you make sure to turn it off,” he said. “They should not share (their location) with anyone other than you. You’re the only ones who should know where they stand.’

Facebook “for old people”

Facebook is no longer the dominant social media network among children.

“They laugh and they say it’s only for old people,” Cochran said.

Instead, most of them use TikTok, a video sharing app that allows the user to create 15-second videos and is the most widely used worldwide. By the end of 2021, 656 million users had downloaded the app, 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 the marketing performance of the apps.

Cochran said apps aren’t all bad and he even found some tips included on TikTok helpful, like a wall button finder. But apps like TikTok monitor online behavior and create a virtual “For You” page to personalize the user’s interests. This is cause for concern for parents, especially if children engage in inappropriate content intentionally or unknowingly.

“If your child has TikTok, you should keep an eye on that,” he said. “So if you see your kid on TikTok and it’s stuff that’s very inappropriate, there’s a very, very good chance that your kid is looking at things they shouldn’t be when you’re not there.”

Open communication

The most important thing is that parents keep open communication with their children.

“The main thing I want to make sure everyone realizes is to be able to have this dialogue with your kids,” he said.

Cochran said keeping kids safe on the internet doesn’t have to mean banning all use if they make a mistake.

“I don’t necessarily recommend that if something goes wrong, you just take it off and say, ‘You’ll never get YouTube again because they’ll find other ways to get it, whether it’s through a friend’s device.. whatever it may be that they’re going to find ways,” he said. “(Keep it that way) they know they can come to you.”

Among red flags, he said, parents can search children who use the Internet whether they are physically healthy or losing sleep; still socialize with family and friends; addressing and performing at school; continue to pursue hobbies and interests “in whatever form”, and still have fun while learning through digital media.

Cochran said parents need to realize that the reality is that “our kids are going to do this.”

“So we have to find a way to get that balance,” he said.

Parents with additional questions about Internet safety may contact Cochran at 262-653-4210 or email at tcochran@kenosha.org.

For more information on digital media safety and education, visit commonsensemedia.org, which provides an overview of age-appropriate Internet and media topics for parents to discuss with their children.




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