Parents hear from DA about social media safety at Central York
After threats that originated from two social-media posts in February caused panic from students, school officials and parents — and a districtwide shutdown for three days —Central York is taking a proactive step in managing social-media safety.
York County District Attorney Dave Sunday led an Internet/Social Media Safety Seminar for parents and guardians of district students and anyone interested in learning more about social-media behavior, in the Central York High School auditorium Thursday, March 15.
Dozens of parents and children attended the hourlong seminar in which Assistant District Attorney Teresa Jauregui discussed the number of social-media and internet platforms that may be familiar or unfamiliar to parents, the risks associated with social-media use by teens and steps parents can take to best prevent abuse.
A lot of choices: Jauregui listed the "big four" — Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter — as well as 14 other popular apps that she said parents were less familiar with, such as Discord, Musical.ly, Kik and Houseparty.
"We want you to understand how prevalent these apps are — not only in our community, not only in our country, but worldwide," she said.
Kids have more and more access to getting online, she said, showing a video of a 13-year-old girl who admitted to using 10 different platforms, with seven to eight hours of screen time each day.
According to the CommonSense Media video, teens used media for an average of nine hours daily in 2015, and Jauregui said usage has only gone up since then.
Peggy Snyder, principal of St. Joseph's Catholic School in Dallastown, said the seminar was helpful to her.
"I'm not on a lot of social media, so I don't know about a lot of these things," she said.
Risks: With all social-media apps — which typically also have an associated website — there are risks, and Jauregui explained some potential safety loopholes.
On Facebook, there is no way for the site to verify identities, and some features such as profile pictures are always public. Sunday warned that burglars have used Facebook to find out when families are going on vacation so they could target their homes.
Many privacy settings for apps have a public default, and posts on Snapchat and Twitter are not easily taken out of sight because anyone can take a screenshot.
Instagram and Messenger allow users to receive messages from anyone, and multiple accounts can be created on Instagram with different usernames, making it difficult for parents to know if their child has one.
Kik, a messaging app most popular with ages 13-24, has often had problems associated with child exploitation, Jauregui said, with users receiving photos of full frontal male nudity.
Sites such as Tumblr, YouTube and Reddit have inappropriate content that is hard to monitor, she said.
Safety measures: Issues facing younger children tend to be things such as seeing inappropriate content and knowing whom to trust online, Jauregui said, while teens and tweens have to deal with cyberbullying, sexting, posting personal or inappropriate content and meeting potential predators offline
She said kids tend to see inappropriate content no matter what parents do, noting that the average age when boys are exposed to pornography is 11.
The best mode of defense is talking to children about what they see in a nonthreatening way that invites questions and helps them report it, if necessary, she said.
One of the most important things to remind kids of when they're posting is "it can be on there forever," Jauregui said.
Inappropriate, illegal or offensive content such as threats, hate speech or indications of underage drinking or drugs can be viewed by colleges and jobs in social media and Google searches, and kids may never know who might have shared something.
This may be especially prevalent with sexting, when a person shares a nude photo with someone else, she said.
Jauregui also gave parents tips on how to recognize signs of sexual solicitation and cyberbullying.
One of the signs an adult might be soliciting a child is unknown gifts in the mail, she said.
Cyberbullying, which affects more than half of adolescents and teens, according to a 2014 study, can have signs including victims withdrawing from media and family or bullies avoiding discussions, using multiple social-media accounts at all hours and having a tendency to switch screens quickly.
Though there are many technologies available to monitor or filter online content, Jauregui and Sunday said the most important takeaway for parents is to take an interest in what their kids are involved in online and talk to them about it, which makes it easier for kids to come to parents if they have a problem.
NetSmartz.org has tips for parents and updates on current apps and what they do.
Parents: "I'm just very happy the school district is being proactive in having this discussion," said David Humphrey, whose stepson is in Central York School District.
"The internet is extremely powerful, and the technology world is very capable," he said. "It also means that people with malintent have that kind of power."
Humphrey attended the seminar with his wife, Tonya Paul-Humphrey, and stepdaughter Emma Grace Paul, who is a fifth grader in the Red Lion Area School District.
"It definitely gave an awareness to parents of what can happen," Paul-Humphrey said, but her husband said he thinks it's just the tip of the iceberg.