NEW PARIS — What parents need to know about social media and how kids are using it were topics at a recent presentation to community members and students at National Trail High School.
Part of the presentation included showing parents a few apps kids are using to hide information from their parents.
“It was a very good presentation. It was, probably out of all the social media things that I’ve seen in the years of being an administrator, very informative. I heard many of the kids after they left talking about it,” Bob Fisher, high school principal at NT, said. “They talked to everything today about bullying, cyber bullying and how it impacts kids. How it impacts you in your life.”
Valerie Sargent-Eckert, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney assigned to the Juvenile Division, discussed topics such as sexting, photos, cyber bullying and peer pressure.
“What I am seeing most often is most of the reports are coming to me related to sexting, exchanging photographs, inappropriate content and what it is their exchanging, and the bullying,” Eckert said.
Eckert said in her 11 years with the prosecutor’s office, the trend is increasing.
“It’s certainly not decreasing,” she said. “Most of the kids are getting cell phones and technology tablets and things a whole lot sooner than they previously did. That’s not helping. Despite (parents) efforts to actually implement what you think are parent controls those are easily worked around. You may not even be aware of that.”
Eckert said kids are using multiple forms of social media to do this such as Facebook, Kick, Instagram or Snapchat.
“A lot of times Snapchat images which they think are only existing for a brief second then disappearing are in fact not disappearing. You can capture those. You can screen shoot those and then obviously share later,” Eckert said. “These are usually the result of a relationships that ended some time ago.”
Eckert said most of the time it’s boys who are receiving the photographs then are sharing with their friends.
“The moment they receive them they’re possessing child pornography if it depicts a minor in a state of nudity,” she said. “If they share it with their friends that’s disseminating matter. If they upload it they’re disseminating it.”
She said it used to be most of photos used to be females depicted and that is no longer the case.
“There’s a fair amount of males taking photographs of themselves and sharing them,” she said. “It’s usually a tit-for-tat. ‘You send me what you got and I’ll show you mine.’”
She said all of those are felonies.
“It is possible you may have to register (as a sex offender) because you received child pornography,” she said. “Our kids are making poor mistakes. I would say the age is decreasing. It used to be 16, 17-year-olds, 15-year-olds, now I’m seeing 11-and-12-year-olds who are sharing photos of themselves. So I don’t quite understand how that is happening.”
She said a lot of the devices being used by the younger kids are hand-me-downs from their parents.
“From the prosecutor’s office stand point I don’t know how to engage the parents so much,” Eckert said. “What I’m finding is that parents tend to then have the opposite reaction of what I would have expected. I would have expected parents to be like ‘you did it wrong, we’re not covering for you, this is what is going to happen.’ An acceptance of responsibility for what one has done while trying to educate. But in my experience, it’s typically, ‘it’s not her fault, it’s his fault.’ It’s a hard thing to try and measure through the court system in terms of where is it breaking down. Is it a parent problem? Is it technology work around problem? I don’t know where the problem is.”
(Editor’s note: This is the first article in a series discussing social media and the dangers lurking for children. Look for additional information in upcoming editions of The Register-Herald.)