You’re at home, cooking dinner. The kids are upstairs doing homework on their computers. The doorbell rings and when you open the door, you find the Connecticut State Police on your doorstep.
“We have a search warrant,” the trooper says, as she enters the house. “Your daughter has been harassing another student over the Internet.”
Or: “Your son is wanted for criminal impersonation.”
Or: “We are charging your child with harassing and bigotry, which is a felony.”
The police come in, they take your computer, your iPod, your kids’ game console, and your nightmare begins.
THIS IS NOT A FANTASY, says Samantha McCord, a Connecticut State Trooper who specializes in internet crime. She is stationed in Meriden, with the Connecticut State Police Compute Crimes and Electronic Evidence Unit, and cyber crime is her focus.
She spoke in Montville this week in Part I of a two-part series on cyber safety. Her opening statement is chilling.
“Your children could be criminals right now,” she says.
The cyber-bullying statute is long and complex, but its main point of it is that if your kids use the internet inside or outside of school to taunt someone, they are committing a crime, McCord says.
To see the entire law, click on the pdf in the photo box. To hear an explanation of it, and specific cases of bullying, click here to go to the Connecticut Commission on Children’s page about the law.
HERE ARE SOME OF THE THINGS that McCord says Connecticut kids are doing on line right now:
- Intimidating with bigotry
- Breaching the peace
- Criminal impersonation
Criminal impersonation, McCord explains, is when a kid starts an email account or a Facebook or Twitter page – or establishes any online presence – and pretends to be someone else. Usually, the person being impersonated is a teacher or adminstrator. Then, in the guise of that specific other person, the kid harasses or taunts someone.
“They’re not your lovable kids when they’re online,” McCord says.
IF YOUR CHILD IS ON LINE, she says, and has been in a chat room for more than a few minutes, your child has been approached by an online predator. The predator could be an adult, or could be a child just a few years older than yours. But no mistake about it, someone has approached your kid with the hope of getting sex, at least.
In her work, McCord takes on the persona of a 14-year-old girl. Her “Abbie,” a persona she used recently, was the target of six to 10 adult males, she says, who arranged to meet her and were subsequently arrested.
“If your kid has ever been in a chat room,” she says, “he or she has been talked to illicitly.”
SEXTING is a huge problem, McCord says, and relates terrible stories of kids who committed suicide after being caught up in sexting scandals. Sexting is taking still pictures or videos of yourself naked, and texting or sending them to your friends.
Not only can sexting bring up or shed light on moral and ethical problems, but it can also end up in a charge of child pornography – for the sender or the recipient. McCord tells stories of recent arrests of high school kids in Texas, who were involved in sexting. A recent survey found that 20 percent of teens admit to sexting.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
- Be vigilant. Watch your kids while they are on line. Move the computer to a place where it’s easy for you to monitor it – and then do monitor it. Snoop. Friend your child on Facebook, sign up to follow him on Twitter or Foursquare or whatever social media he or she uses.
- Install spyware on all the devices in your child’s life.
- Change the privacy settings on his Facebook page so that the page is not public.
- Go through his Friend list and cull it so that only people you and he know are on it.
- Disable Tags and Check-in
- Remove or disable webcams, if possible.
- Talk with your children about the consequences of bad online behavior, not only for them but for you. Make sure they understand that their activity could bring criminal charges, and that what they post on line can follow them for the rest of their lives, up to and including college and job interviews.
KIDS CAN FIGHT BACK, TOO. McCord says that she is seeing kids “take back the Net.” They don’t like the cyber bullying, the sexting, the impersonation, the online presence of stalkers.
- Print out the Facebook page or chatroom dialogue that scares you and show it to someone.
- Put it in a teacher’s or principal’s or counselor’s mailbox if you have to.
- Email an adult who can help – even if you feel the need to use an anonymous email to tip off that adult.
- Tell your parents. (Parents, if you are worried about your child, talk to his or her best friend. If you’re worried, McCord says, chances are that that friend is worried, too – and often, she or he will open up to you).
- Tell a teacher, guidance counselor, coach, someone you trust.
Parents who want to know more, or want to be involved in the parent-only session should contact the office of the superintendent at 860-848-1228.