I’ve been traveling the country talking to students, parents and organizations about internet/digital safety for over 5 years now. I find that most schools and organizations primarily expect me to use my 60 minutes to list the dangers of technology. While there are certainly some dangers that I do discuss, I find that dangers lie in what people don’t know—especially when it comes to kids.
I kicked off this school year with a fairly large speaking tour, from elementary schools in Texas, to middle schools in Seattle, to a college in Iowa, and more. Once again, my experience tells me that the basic principles and functions that kids don’t know are the very things getting them into trouble when it comes to technology.
My presentation style is very interactive, which usually allows me to learn just as much from audiences as they learn from me. In my most recent presentations, students were excited to rattle off hundreds of apps they were currently using, but were unable to tell me about their privacy settings, location-tracking services, and/or who they were communicating with when using these apps. Smartphones, apps, social networking sites and computers are very powerful tools that I’m thrilled we have and kids have access to; however, I worry when they don’t know how to use them safely, especially when it comes to the following things:
Contrary to popular belief, chat and chat rooms are not dead! In fact, most kids are using chat apps that are giving them access to millions of strangers around the world. I recently read an article about a 12-year-old girl who got approval from her Mom to download a Hunger Games app. After being on this app for approximately 10 minutes, she received a chat invitation from three different and unknown people who immediately started asking inappropriate questions. Unfortunately these apps with chat capabilities aren’t always what they seem.
Additionally, I frequently get questions like this: “I don’t really know this kid, but my friends are friends with him and he looks my age, so also I friended them on this chat app…is that OK?” The mere fact that they’re asking this question scares me, and lets me know they really don’t know any better. I quickly let them know it’s not OK to communicate with individuals they don’t know personally. These types of questions are the only proof I need when instructing parents to check their kids’ apps and friend lists often.
It is my observation that students are not taking advantage of privacy settings. What’s my proof? I have more kids coming up to me after presentations asking me to check their privacy settings than I can keep up with. Some students don’t even know they exist, and for those that do, often times they don’t know how to use them correctly; in their defense, these privacy settings are often extremely cumbersome to use or are hard to find.
Some students have told me they used them once, but then got rid of them saying, “I didn’t really understand what they did and only my friends look at my stuff anyway.” Not true! Millions of people have access to pictures, profiles, and comments if these privacy settings aren’t used, and kids don’t understand why anyone else besides their friends may be interested. Without doubt, privacy settings need to be easier to navigate and find, so I strongly recommend adults step in and help their kids utilize these settings appropriately.
From students to adults, most people don’t know that their location services for most apps on their smart phones are automatically turned on. This worries me, especially when it comes to kids using things like Instagram and Facebook, which automatically tags users with a specific location every time they take a picture or make a post. It’s very simple to turn these off under phone settings, but people need to know what they are and their function so they can have better control over their privacy. I most certainly don’t need people being directed to a map detailing my exact location every time I take a picture or post something, and most people I talk to strongly share this sentiment.
Technology offers up some wonderful and very powerful tools that, when used correctly and with a little discretion, can be safe and fun. Parents are instrumental in helping kids understand these powerful tools, and how to safely navigate them while doing so – otherwise ignorance is bliss dangerous.
Former Director of Internet Safety for the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office and Intelligence Analyst for the Massachusetts State Police, Katie LeClerc Greer travels the country educating students, parents, administrators and law enforcement officers about technology and digital responsibility/safety. You can learn more about Katie at: www.klgreer.com