Science and Technology News

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Protect your child, one click or text at a time

by Airman 1st Class Brittain Crolley
4th Fighter Wing Public Affairs


12/4/2013 - SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C.  -- With advances in technology over the past decade, social media and other forms of electronic communication have skyrocketed, allowing people from all corners of the world to connect instantaneously. It may seem safe and harmless, but do you know who your children are talking to?

According to information from the Wayne County Sheriff's Office, half of all teenagers log on to a social media site more than once a day and more than 75 percent own a cell phone. Although technology has made communication easier, these means of faceless interactions have also made children easier targets for sexual predators and cyber harassers.

To help combat these virtual threats, representatives from the sheriff's department and district attorney's office held a seminar here to promote awareness of the possible dangers and exploitation opportunities facing today's youth, Nov. 21, 2013.

"Social media is not going anywhere," said Wayne County assistant district attorney Terry Light. "Every day brings in a wave of new threats. We have to make sure we address these threats in order to prevent them."

During the seminar, Light and police Lt. Thomas Flores discussed the negative impacts of online networking, including sexting, cyber bullying and exposure to inappropriate content.

Sexting is defined as the act of sending sexually explicit messages, semi-nude or nude photos using cellular messaging features. According to Flores, more than 20 percent of teens have sent a nude photo of themselves electronically. The teen trend can have many repercussions that most people aren't aware of.

"There is a lot of stuff out there that I didn't even know about," said Airman 1st Class Lauren Dennis, 4th Medical Operations Squadron childcare provider. "It's leading to depression and suicide and it's terrible."

There is also a legal issue for possessing and distributing these images if the subject of the photo is a minor. According to federal law, persons convicted of child pornography or exploitation can be sentenced to a maximum of 20 years in prison and required to register as a sex offender.

"Once the picture is out there, it's out there forever," Flores described. "There's no getting it back. You may trust the person you're sending it to, but you never know what they're going to do with it in the future."

Flores said more than 15 percent of males distribute explicit images of their girlfriends when they break up.

In some extreme cases, images have been sent school-wide, to family members of the victim and virally across the internet. According to the guest speakers, this can lead to a different virtual phenomenon - cyber bullying.

According to Light, cyber bullying can range anywhere from sending harassing or threatening comments to photoshopping pictures to spreading rumors across virtual mediums. As opposed to face-to-face tormenting, cyber bullying has the tendency to spread faster and reach wider audiences.

"It's a real threat facing our youth today," Light explained. "We, as parents, have to talk to our children to make sure they know the risks and consequences of social media and internet use as a whole. Awareness is the most important thing."

Awareness was the keystone of the seminar, hoping to educate parents about the dangers that await unsuspecting victims in cyberspace.

"I thought the seminar was vital for our children, who sometimes don't realize the long-range impact to themselves and others, but also for the parents raising those children," said Kirsten Pettus, wife of Col. Lamar Pettus, 4th Fighter Wing vice commander and mother of two. "We have to do all we can to protect our children in this high-speed environment we live in today."

For more information about the seminar or to find one in your local area, visit www.netsmartz.org.

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