I had the opportunity to attend an internet safety class put on by Officer Gomez, of the Meridian Police Department. Parents and kids, over the age of 10, were invited to attend. I asked my 13 year old to come with me, but she opted to stay home and do the dishes. In hindsight, I should have brought her, and done the dishes later.
I learned a lot.
I was surprised by the immense amount of information that was presented. I initially thought the class was going to be about limiting our kids screen/phone time and adding parental control features to the Internet. I was wrong.
Officer Gomez explained how easy it is for kids of all ages to access the Internet. He talked about sexting, bullying, photo sharing and social media. Every story he shared was a surprising reminder of the importance of teaching our kids how to be safe online.
The most important thing I learned, was how to keep my kids safe from sexual predators. I had no idea that sexual predators preyed on middle school kids. Middle schoolers tend to be eager to mature and gain approval, so they are the perfect target. Officer Gomez said that 60 percent of sixth graders, 80 percent of seventh graders and 90 percent of eighth graders use social media. Sexual predators use fake social media accounts to get close to our kids.
He also said that within five miles of any school, there can be up to 30 registered sex offenders. We need to understand and teach our kids how to be safe from predators. He offered these tips:
- Kids should not have a smartphone before the age of 13 (most social media apps do no allow users to sign up if they are under the age of 13).
- The number of ‘friends’ on any social media account should be limited to 200 (the higher the number of ‘friends’, the higher the incident of bullying and access to predators)
- Only ‘friend’ people you personally know and have shoulder touched (or high-fived, shook hands, bumped elbows, or hugged). Do not ‘friend’ someone just because they are a friend of a friend.
- Know your kid’s phone passwords and do random phone checks (monitor their phone for several hours).
We need to have more conversations with our kids about internet safety and the dangers of social media. They need to know that we love them and want them to be safe. Our kids need to know that they can talk to us and that we will listen, without freaking out.
If you want more information or want to watch the presentation, you can find it here.
What do you do to keep your kids safe online?