OCEANSIDE — Oceanside police shared information with parents on how to protect their children when they interact online at Civic Center Library on Sept. 17.
Detective Joshua Morris said during the last five years there has been an increase in cyber bullying and child predators grooming victims online.
“Social media sites are prevalent,” Morris said. “There’s a lot out there. A lot more ways kids can get into trouble.”
Tips on talking to children about cyber bullying, online child predators and inappropriate online images were shared.
Morris said parents must communicate, set expectations for online behavior, and follow up with consequences.
“Kids need it drilled into their minds what’s OK and not OK,” Morris said.
For younger online users, ages 5 to 10, parents can start setting rules for expected online behavior. Maintaining good manners, letting a parent know when inappropriate images or messages pop up on screen, and not trusting people you meet online are a few basic guidelines for young Internet users.
Older tweens and teens need to know the dangers of cyber bullying, online predators, posting personal or inappropriate information, and sexting.
Warning signs that there might be a problem were also shared.
Morris said a tremendous amount of cyber bullying goes unreported. He said that parents should be aware of changes in their child’s behavior. A child who is socially withdrawn and nervous to go online may be a victim of cyber bullying.
Morris said unlike being bullied in person, cyber bullying follows a child home and is there every time the child goes online. Its impact can lead to depression or escalate to suicide.
Cyber bullying can quickly become more than a child can handle and needs to be reported to parents, school officials and police.
Morris said parents should also be alert for signs their child is a cyber bully. Signs include avoiding discussing what they are doing online, minimizing the screen when parents enter the room and laughing at their own online posts.
“Cyber bullying can go viral,” Morris said. “It’s a mob mentality. It just gets vicious.”
Morris said tweens and teens are at the age of experimentation and vulnerable to peer pressure. Inappropriate web camera and photo posts can have long-range consequences.
“Once it’s on the Internet or website it’s there forever,” Morris said. “It can have devastating consequences.”
Schools are adopting zero tolerance policies and not allowing students to play on school sports teams if they post inappropriate images or messages.
Having a partially clothed photo of a minor is considered child pornography, even if a minor has that image.
Morris said it is the parents’ responsibility to know what their child is doing online, who their child’s online friends are, and what sites their child visits.
Online predators are another danger. They are commonly men age 26 and older and usually do not abduct children, but groom children to trust them. Predators may take days, weeks, months or longer to gain the friendship of a child.
Children need to be cautious using online websites and video games.
“I would be leery if someone wanted to be a friend of my child,” Morris said. “I’d question that heavily.”
Morris said children should not share family names, school location, addresses, birth dates or passwords online.
“A lot of times gut feelings are right,” Morris said.
Smart phones can also increase children’s exposure to inappropriate communication.
“Give a 10-year-old a smart phone and you’re opening up a whole new world for them,” Morris said. “You need to know your child’s limits, be aware of what’s out there and make an informed decision.”
There are privacy settings and limited phone plans to help parents protect their children. “The information is there,” Morris said. “It’s not a big bold button, but the information is there.”
Some recommended websites to help parents manage their child’s online access are Facebook.com/help, support.Twitter.com, and Google.com/GoodtoKnow/familysafety.