In this day and age of such readily available technology, instances of catfishing and cyberbullying have become increasingly more common.
Tim Felton of Eagle Ridge Tactical Consulting, conducts special internet safety class for parents, to help educate them on the online dangers their children can face.
“Young people on the internet oftentimes find themselves the victims of catfishing schemes,” Felton said, “which entails one party misrepresenting themselves in some manner.”
According to Felton, these predators are more often than not adults who claim to be roughly the same age as the child. They flatter, fake friendships, send them gifts and can ultimately lure the child into unsafe behaviors. These predators are attracted by certain behaviors and patterns young people exhibit online and will target both males and females.
But there are other risky behaviors children can engage in online, he said, including sending mean or rude messages to other children, sharing inappropriate subject matter or visiting adult websites.
Felton delivers a version of his presentation to students, emphasizing for them they never know for certain who they might be dealing with when they were on the internet. He added things shared on the net are more often than not unable to ever be taken back.
“I ask the kids to really think about why an adult might ask you to keep a secret from your parents or friends,” Feltonaid. “They need to realize predators know how to manipulate them.
“They also need to realize, no matter what happens, they can still come to parents and teachers if they find themselves in a situation. It is important that they know it is not their fault.”
Felton provides a long list of things kids could do to keep themselves safe. He passes the list on to parents in the hopes they would open up a dialogue with their children, talking about ways that they can be safe.
In addition, activities parents can do to learn about what their children are doing when they are spending time on the internet.
“Teach them not to engage with strangers,” Felton said. “And never meet people in person. Teach them not to give out too much information about themselves online, it can spread quickly, and to guard their passwords well."
Felton added the importance of monitoring children’s credit reports, as identity theft of children is among the top crimes committed online.
“These thieves know that parents don’t typically start looking at their child’s credit until they are preparing for college, he said. "By then, thieves could have had years to use that credit.”
He also cautioned about the importance of privacy settings, and teaching kids that what they put out into cyberspace can get them into trouble. Things like hate speech, lewd or offensive gestures, profanity, threats, revealing or suggestive images and bullying linger online and could come back to haunt them in later years.
“The thing I ask them,” Felton said. “Is if it would be something that they would want a friend or a loved one to see. They need to ask themselves who it would hurt, and they need to know that they can be held accountable.”
Other dangers Felton discusses are texting and talking in code, advising parents to learn what the codes stand for, like the popular 420, and its relation to marijuana.
“I want the kids to walk away understanding the dangers,” Felton said. “And knowing the importance of the power of one. They can have that herd mentality and be a bully or they can be that person who stands up and becomes a friend.”
Among the risks Felton advises parents to be on the lookout for were: Spending large amounts of time online at night, turning off the monitor quickly or changing the screen when a parent enters the room, becoming withdrawn, using someone else’s online accounts, receiving gifts in the mail from strangers, and using codes.
“Talk openly with your children,” Felton said. “Spend time with them online, have them teach you about their favorite online destinations, utilize parental controls and don’t be afraid to check histories. Be responsible with online usage and teach you kids to be responsible online as well.”