Tips for kids with smartphones

Alyssa Pressler

Phones are a popular gift for the holidays. Students and young  children with phones and other smart devices have more connection with others, an easy place to research and the ability to branch out.

However, those same devices can lead to cyberbullying, and there is potential for a lack of maturity when it comes to social-media posts.

The Federal Trade Commission has some suggestions for the parents of smartphone-using youngsters.

FILE - In this Friday, Nov. 23, 2012, file photo, Tashalee Rodriguez, of Boston, uses a smartphone app while shopping at Macy's in downtown Boston. Teens and children who got smartphones over the holidays should know rules and best practices when using them.

The FTC points out that texting, instant messaging  or emailing should be treated no differently than talking face to face. "If you wouldn't say it to someone's face, it's not OK to type it," the commission says on its website.

The  site reminds everyone that avatars, the icons created to represent users online in games and forums, have real people behind the characters on the screen.

Cyberbullying is a major problem among young people in York County and beyond, and it could have been a factor in last year's local increase in youth suicides, according to York County Coroner Pam Gay.

Fifteen-year-old Shania Sechrist hanged herself after school in May. She left a note, saying she loved her family but she couldn't bear the pain of being bullied anymore.

Youth suicide on the rise in York County

When it comes to cyberbullying, the FTC encourages people to speak up if they see something inappropriate happening online, either on social media, in a game or in a chat room. Young people can report the incident to the site they are using or tell an adult they trust, such as a parent, teacher or mentor.

The commission  suggests stepping in and telling the bully to stop when others are being bullied. Often, the behavior stops once someone stands up to the bully, the site states.

If you are the one being harassed online, keep calm and don't respond. Not responding and blocking the person on the site might end the bullying. If it continues, save the evidence and tell an adult.

Sexting, or sending nude photos via text or other online messaging programs, is another potential issue with young people and cellphones. In 2009, The York Dispatch reported that 25 to 30 phones were confiscated by police after two Spring Grove students sent nude photos of themselves to classmates.

Students under 18 who participate in sexting are considered to be breaking child pornography laws. Any student who has photos of a sexual nature, including nude or partially nude pictures, that show someone under 18 is considered to be in possession of child pornography. Sharing such photos is also illegal.

An opinion piece published in The Dispatch on the matter suggests parents talk to their teens about sexting to ensure they know it is a crime, even if the photos were received and immediately deleted. If students do receive nude photos, they should immediately tell an adult.