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Gig Harbor Resident Advocates Active Parental Supervision to Protect Teens From Online Predators

Lynn Mock, a former Community Service Officer for the Gig Harbor Police Department, spoke to students at Bonney Lake High School on Wednesday about Internet safety, cyberbullying and how to make good choices to protect themselves.

Given how common Internet lingo is these days, most people who own a computer are likely familiar with abbreviations like LOL, ROFL and even SMH.

Here's one you might not know: POS.

It stands for 'Parent Over Shoulder' and implies that the person your teen might be texting or instant messaging over the Internet should cease typing for the time being, at least until you walk away.

That is exactly what parents and guardians should not do, said Lynn Mock, a former Community Service Officer for the Gig Harbor Police Department who now speaks to students as well as parents and educators about general safety, which includes the dangers of the Internet.

These days, devices from laptop computers to iPods to smart phones feature programs that aim to help parents control the content their children see online, but fundamentally, "there is nothing better than parental supervision," Mock told a group of educators at Bonney Lake High School Wednesday night during a free workshop on responsible social networking that was also open to parents.

Basic Supervision Suggestions

Set time and location limits for when your children can go online and place your computer in a common area so you can be in the room or nearby, Mock said. This is increasingly difficult given that many teens also have smart phones and don't need to be tethered to a computer, but there are devices where parents can limit the Internet usage based on their child's location.

Communicate with your teens and instill in them the understanding of the Internet analog to common safety information they learned offline:

  • Don't talk to strangers = Don't accept friend requests from people you don't know
  • Don't go out after dark = Be wary of predators who might contact you in the evening hours when you might be doing homework or playing video games
  • Follow your instincts = If something feels wrong, stop
  • Don't run with a stick = Don't put yourself in unnecessarily vulnerable situations by posting phone numbers or questionable photos of yourself (or don't post anything you don't want your grandmother to see)

Make sure that the parents of your children's friends share your same values. Some parents may be more lax in supervising their teens, Mock said, and you'll want to align your family with others who share similar concerns about Internet safety, and safety in general.

Dangers of Being So Connected

Even while teens and adults use caution while interacting with friends online, they need to remain vigilant and remember that their actions affect others because often, predators are using the same technologies to their advantage.

Mock offered this scenario:

Jill and Jack are first cousins who attend the same high school. Jill works parttime at a grocery store and interacts fairly regularly with a male shopper, but when he requested to friend her on Facebook, she found it weird and denied the request.

Seeing their connection online through tagged photos, however, the man then asked to friend Jack, and being that he is a fearless young man who believes he can handle his own safety online and offline, Jack allows it.

Jack and Jill later make plans on each other's walls to meet with friends for a movie. This man Jack friended now knows Jill's whereabouts and will be at the theatre taking pictures of her, possibly even sit behind her.

And a stalker situation is born.

The geo-tagging feature that lets users check in at a restaurant, at home or other venue is a fun way to let friends know here you are, but if you then post as a Facebook status that you're going on vacation next week, a predator could deduce that your house will be vacant and take the opportunity to attempt a break-in since he can see where your house is located.

"If you put anything on the Internet, there is no expectation of privacy," Mock concludes, even if you set Facebook options to 'private' because due to regular updates, your settings can be overridden if you're not regularly checking.

Other Takeaways

  • Most online predators seek victims for sexual manipulation or for financial gain.
  • Tagging photos on Facebook is an easy way for predators to determine relations and other information about a prospective victim.
  • 70 percent of Internet predator interactions occur at home; 22 percent happen at a friend's house.
  • 99 percent of online predators are male
  • 36 percent of victims are male; 64 percent are female
  • It's a good idea to check your Facebook account and privacy settings every month or so because as upgrades are made, settings can often revert.
  • If your child goes missing, do not touch the computer they use before police have a chance to examine it.
  • Regarding Issues of Cyberbullying:
    • Girls tend to be the worst perpetrators and are usually motivated by something wrong in their lives.
    • Young couples who might take nude or questionable photos of themselves to send to each other not only put themselves at risk for felony convictions and being designated as a sexual offender but also the recipient of those photos, according to current case law.
    • Students have come to own the notion of telling someone in authority about a potential violent situation in school, said Mock, and incidents of school violence have decreased greatly. It's time for students to now adopt that same frame of mind regarding cyberbulling and bullying in general.

For more resources about keeping your family safe, visit www.studentsurvivalskills.com.

Angela Riggens November 15, 2012 at 10:24 PM
Great article.
Michelle Smith November 16, 2012 at 02:03 AM
We have a rule that we have to have all the passwords for the underage kids cell phones, emails, social networking, etc. as they start using those things. It's a reality of life these days and I would rather they slowly learn how to safely use them with our guidance. They know that at any point we can (and do) check on activity. They earn more online privileges with responsible behavior. It's a good policy to never text, e-mail, or post anything that you wouldn't want your mom reading. Because you never know who else is reading it. Big Mother is watching! :)

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