As a part of the Windsor Knolls Middle School (WKMS) “Critical Convos” program, the PTSA hosted a “Kid & Teen Cell & Cyber Safety” presentation delivered by Joe Dugan, internet safety specialist with the Maryland State Police Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force on Jan. 15. Parents and children in fourth grade and up were invited.
During the presentation, Dugan reported that a quarter of children will be contacted by a predator online; one in five children will receive an inappropriate image; and 60 percent of children receive messages from a person they do not know, but only one-third of those children report it. “By age 11,” he said, “half of children have been exposed to adult content.” For boys, the percentage is higher.
Dugan explained that online predators do not fit the mold that parents picture. Many are in their mid-twenties and could be male or female. He described some of the predators’ tactics. “No matter what you like, (the predator) is going to tell you he likes the same thing. They’re con men. … He’s going to fill every need your child has.” No matter how uncommon the child’s interest or hobby, Dugan said, the predator is going to have the same one.
They’re also going to show that they identify with the child’s feelings. Dugan reported that 14 percent of the time that it is requested, a girl will take a picture and send it to the requestor. In some of those photos, girls expose themselves. Once a photo has been sent, he stressed, it is no longer in control of the sender. “Don’t let others decide where your photo ends up,” he tells kids.
Dugan told parents to set rules for internet use, and perhaps arrange a contract with the child. Children need to know that they can come to parents when they are uncomfortable, he stressed, but parents need to figure out what they’ll do—before something happens. “The instinct is to take the phone, right?” he said.
ICAC advises, “If your knee-jerk reaction is to take the device away, chances are, they probably will not come to you with a problem in the future. Try to come up with a plan of action that you and your child can agree upon.”
Dugan reminded the children in the room, “As the child, you are the victim. … Tell a parent, teacher or SRO (school resource officer).”
Dugan displayed some of the social networking apps that children are using and warned of direct-messaging capabilities in social media apps. He said that iFunny and Instagram contain inappropriate content.
He noted that in addition to containing inappropriate content and direct messaging, TikTok is a China-based company “keeping a lot of stats on your child. The US is trying to get that stopped.”
Dugan said that Kik was popular among middle schoolers a few years ago, but even kids realized there were too many predators. Whisper, he said, has been linked to human trafficking. He also noted that people often think that photos sent over Snapchat no longer exist once they disappear, but that’s not true. In fact, they can be saved. As Snapchat’s website says, “You can always save something important (or hilarious) with one tap, or a screenshot.”
The premise of the app Omegle is to make contact with strangers. The website description admits predator use: “When you use Omegle, we pick someone else at random and let you talk one-on-one. … Predators have been known to use Omegle, so please be careful.”
Likewise, ASKfm is based on anonymous contact and asking questions of one another. Its website description highlights the anonymity: “Ask questions to any friend—anonymously or not.” They describe their app as “a safe environment where you can express yourself freely.”
In addition to receiving photos through direct messages in their social media account, another way students might be exposed to inappropriate photos, Dugan reported, is through AirDrop on an iPhone. A sender can look for nearby phones with bluetooth open and send unsolicited photos to those phones.
If your child receives an inappropriate photo, Dugan said, “delete and report it immediately. (Possession of child pornography) is illegal.” If photographs of a child are found on a device, the police will confiscate all electronic devices from the home. If you plan to submit a message as evidence of a crime, ICAC advises to “refrain from using the device further, until it can be examined by the police. If possible, set the device to ‘airplane mode.’”
One important app that parents aren’t usually aware of, Dugan said, is an app hider that looks like a calculator; users hide photos on it. As it describes itself, “App Hider is the best app for hiding other apps. … App Hider is also an excellent app cloner for you to access multiple accounts from one device. (It) can hide photos and videos and hide App Hider itself by turn (sic) itself into a Calculator.” You can “import (an app) … and then uninstall that app from your home system, (and) import your photos to (its) hidden gallery. … The Calculator Vault is a real Calculator, and if you input the right password into the calculator (the app appears).”
According to WKMS PTSA President Whitney Cummins, parent feedback from the session was overwhelmingly positive: “Ninety-two percent of parents (who responded) feel like they have the tools to continue the discussion at home.”
Many parents expressed interest in an uncensored version of the talk for a parents-only audience, and the WKMS PTSA has quickly made that happen. Dugan will return to the WKMS cafeteria on Thursday, Jan. 30, 7 to 8:30 p.m. to give a “Parent-Informed Internet Safety and Cyber Security Presentation” that will be more explicit, upfront and raw; parents may want to leave children at home. All FCPS parents are invited.
Dugan reminded people that parental controls are available on phones and through the phone company: “They have parental protections built in. Find out what they are.” ICAC recommends use of parental monitoring and website-blocking apps. Dugan mentioned one such service, Bark, that alerts parents to certain content.
An ICAC pamphlet provided additional resources for parents, including Protect Young Eyes (www.protectyoungeyes.com), Netsmartz (www.netsmartz.org), and CyberWise: No Grownup Left Behind (www.cyberwise.org). Parents can also follow ICAC on Facebook at Maryland Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force and on Twitter @ICAC_MD. People can report internet crime tips to www.cybertipline.com