Falling victim to an online predator can happen to anyone, but teens and children are most vulnerable.
Local law enforcement is advising parents to teach their kids that people online aren't always who they say they are. Technology is rapidly changing . Students as young as five are getting access to tablets in their classrooms.
CBS 13 Weather Anchor Erika Caturay spoke with local police and school officials in a special report, Youth and the Internet.
This year Yuma County's former Chief Financial Officer Scott Holt allegedly had a sexual relationship with a minor. Police say the young boy met Holt on an online dating app. It’s just one of the many dangerous connections made through the use of the internet.
Yuma police say they have several open cases in reference to threats and inappropriate photos on social media that include minors. Officer Cesar Pino with the Yuma Police Department said, “Right now were dealing a lot with kids using Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook."
A lot of the dangers they’re finding on social media are minors “friending” or “adding” people they don’t know. When that happens, the stranger gets access to more of their personal information, such as where they live, where they go to school, and what they’re doing."They’re asking these kids to share inappropriate photos and unfortunately, some of these juveniles have been doing that. They've been sharing these inappropriate photos and these people are posting it all over the internet," said Officer Pino.
That's not the only concern with minors online. Jessica Casey, a 6th grade teacher in the Crane School District said, "Schools have definitely seen some interactions with bullying through social media." Cyber bullying is not something to take lightly, as it has lead to teen suicides. The CDC says that suicides rates for teenage girls are at a 40 year high.
Aside from that, some social media users have claimed that the popular app instagram contributed to eating disorders. The platform allows users to display and alter photos with filters. Millennials, including teenagers, makeup the biggest age group on instagram.
These days the internet along with technology, are rapidly growing. Internetlivestats.com keeps a live track of various activity on the worldwide web. The amount of people who have used Google, tweeted, viewed Youtube videos all in a day and more.
Currently there are over 1.2 billion websites and that number is growing at this moment. Schools across the country are keeping up with the increasing trend of technology, including here in Yuma. Local kindergarten classrooms and even some preschools provide iPads for children.
In the Crane School District, every kid has access to an ipad. Funding for the devices came from the Apple ConnectEd grant and started three years ago.
"We work to be very proactive with our students in helping them develop digital citizenship skills. We are also able to monitor content and sites that students access, as well as block them from sites that may have potential harm," said Casey. Teachers have an app that allows them to see all the students’ screens so they know exactly what they are looking at, at that moment.
"I think most teachers and most schools are really trying to make sure that most students understand the impact of their words, whether they're online or on our campuses and trying to help them to make positive choices," said Casey. Assignments and tests are administered on the iPads, and the Crane School District does not have textbooks anymore.
They aren't the only school district keeping up with trending technology. Yuma Union High School District says they have over 9,000 devices. "One of the main reasons that we go into technology is to make it equitable for students so students that don't have access to technology at home they might have an opportunity to use it at school and be the only place they're going to, and that's something they're going to need for their future when they move on to college, when they move on to their career, being able to use and know how to use technology will be important," said Eric Patten, Community Director at YUHSD. Another reason for the technology transition is due to budget cuts. In the long run school officials say it will help save money because they don't have to constantly buy updated textbooks.
"The technologies are becoming vastly cheaper. The ability to leverage what used to be business only applications is getting into our classrooms," said Dean Farar, YUHSD Chief Information Officer.
Patten explained, "I think there's a social responsibility for us as a school district also to protect the environment a little bit, and the waste that comes along with paper or with printing worksheets and things like that all the time."
With the pros also comes the cons; One local teacher said they constantly catch students playing games on the devices. There was also an incident at another local school were a student took a picture of a test using the Snapchat app and forwarded it to other students. As for the internet filters that block students from accessing certain websites- sometimes teachers or students might want to access educational material but it is blocked. A ticket gets put in but it takes days to unblock a site. Yuma Union High School District says they get 9,000 ticket requests a year to unblock sites.
Aside from monitoring children on technology at schools, there are also things parents can do to help keep them safe. "The best way to keep kids safe is as parents we teach our kids what is acceptable to do on the internet and one of the things I do personally in my home is that the computer our children uses is wide out in the open so that anyone can see what is going on and they're not hiding from it, or hiding what they're doing on it." But he says even then, things can still happen on the internet. "There's all kinds of ways for popups and different things to show up that you have to be ready to talk to your children about and help them to know what is good and what is not," said Farar.
There are different apps and programs parents can download to control their kids internet uses on various devices.
The Yuma County Sheriff's office is also advising parents to do a search on their kids on the social networking sites that they visit. Verify that their pages are private and remind kids to not post anything that could embarrass them or expose them to danger. Here’s the full press release from the Yuma County Sheriff’s Office:
Social Media Awareness
The Yuma County Sheriff’s Office would like to remind the parents of this community of the danger that Social Media may bring to your children. Parents should search social networking sites their children visit to see what information they are posting. Make sure you are added to your children’s “friend list” so you can view their information and verify that their profiles are set to private. If you’re uncertain whether your child has a profile, do a simple online search by typing your child’s name into a search engine like Google, or into the search option of the site in question.
Teach your child to:
• Be as anonymous as possible
• Use privacy settings
• Think before they post
• Avoid in-person meetings
• Be honest about their age
• Remember social networking sites are public spaces
• Avoid posting anything that could embarrass them later or expose them to danger
• Remember that people aren’t always who they say they are
• Check comments regularly
• Avoid inappropriate content and behavior, and, if encountered, report it to the social networking site
How to Report Abuse on a Social Networking Site
• Learn what constitutes abuse according to the Social Networking Site’s Terms and Conditions page. Click the ‘Report Abuse’ link and type a description of the abuse in the text field labeled ‘Message.’ Be sure to include a detailed description of the nature of the abuse you are reporting. Also, try to include the name or profile name of the person whom you are reporting, and submit it to the Social Networking Site.
• If you feel you and/or someone you know are in danger, contact law enforcement immediately.
• Do not respond to messages from the individual and be sure to keep copies of messages or correspondences from the individual.
• Block the individual from contacting you and remove the individual from your “Friend List.”
• Delete any comments the individual has left on your profile page.
Anyone with questions regarding social media is encouraged research and attend a social media awareness course and educate yourself in this subject.