When it comes to technology, kids have generally been able to stay a step or two ahead of their parents when it comes to keeping things hidden.
Franklin Community Schools working in partnership with the Johnson County Prosecutor’s Office and the Franklin Police Department, is trying to help parents close the gap.
This week, Franklin Community High School hosted a forum on cyber safety in an effort to educate parents on three key issues of concern: threats, cyberbullying and sexting.
The forum featured input from a six-person panel: Carrie Miles, Alex Hamner and Ryan Bland from the Johnson County Prosecutor’s Office; police chief Tim O’Sullivan and school resource officer Brian Oliver; and Franklin schools superintendent David Clendening.
According to Clendening, the main objectives behind the forum were to share information with parents regarding threats, cyberbullying and sexting, and to show that the partnership between the school district, the police department and the county prosecutor’s office is strong.
Bland, who focuses on prosecuting sex crimes, notes that there is “an ebb and flow” in terms of the volume of inappropriate photos and videos being shared among students in a given year, but that “there’s been an uptick.”
“We decided instead of waiting until we’re getting hundreds of cases coming in, let’s talk to parents and see if there’s not a way that we can decrease the amount that’s happening,” Bland said.
The Internet has made it much easier for children to cause trouble — and get themselves into trouble. O’Sullivan pointed out that it’s much easier for someone to bully a classmate through social media because he or she doesn’t have to face the target.
Many times, Hamner added, kids aren’t aware of how serious, and potentially criminal, some of their actions might be. For instance, a student who receives a nude photo of a classmate and passes it on could be charged with distributing child pornography.
The panel wanted to reinforce the idea that even incidents that don’t lead to criminal charges can hamper a child later in life — potential employers, for example, routinely research the social media history of job applicants.
In the end, Clendening and Bland agree, it’s up to the parents to stay involved and monitor their children’s online activity as best they can. Such monitoring can include tracking their phone use or placing restrictions on devices, or going through a child’s phone with them and asking about each of the apps on it.
“Mom and Dad are the first line of defense,” Clendening said. “Please check; it’s okay to check the phone.”
Want to watch this week’s presentation?
Go to the Franklin Community Schools website, franklinschools.org.
Some tools available to parents that can help them foster a safe online environment for their children:
Common Sense Media
A nonprofit organization that provides ratings and information for all types of media
A set of resources offered by the Federal Trade Commission to help educate parents and children about online safety