City of Ukiah, California

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Kids and Cellphones: Keeping our kids safe from danger

A while ago, our family bought an internet connection for our TV, and I quickly discovered Hulu, an internet site that allows you to watch TV over the Internet. Along with discovering Hulu, I discovered that you could watch old TV shows like The Bob Newhart Show. I just loved The Bob Newhart Show growing up in the 1970’s. It was on Saturday nights, right after the Mary Tyler Moore Show.

One of the episodes centers on Bob Newhart and his Dentist friend Jerry Robinson, trying to operate the push button phone at the receptionist desk. I couldn’t stop laughing as I watched Bob and Jerry try to figure out how that push button phone worked. Life was so simple, when compared to today.

Today, our kids each carry a phone with more computer power than the astronauts had to help them reach the moon in the 1970’s. Technology advances have brought with them a new, more complicated world in which our children must learn to live, to thrive and, most importantly of all, to survive.

And, as parents today, we face problems and challenges that our parents never imagined. Today, social bullying, cellphone theft, privacy, and even “sexting” are issues we must understand and protect our children from.

To help parents, the Ukiah Police Department (UPD) and Ukiah High School (UHS) are teaming up to present, “Digital Safety,” a program to educate parents about how to keep their teens and pre-teens safe online. The program will be presented on January 30th, at 6:00 P.M. The program is open to the public and will be presented at the UHS Cafeteria.  Down load the Family Media Agreement here.

UPD School Resource Office Vince Morse and UHS Assistant Principal Chris Francis will teach parents of middle school and high school students about mobile media, managing a digital reputation, bullying online, sexting, and protecting privacy.

 Since the average youth (between the ages of 8-18 years old) spends 7.5 hours using different forms of media each day, it’s important to understand what “media” means. Media is much more than television, radio, and printed newspapers or magazines. It now includes the messages and images we consume and create, and the technology used to consume and create them. Media sources include social networking, texting, wikis, blogs, video chats, and other online resources.

I hope that you can make time for the presentation on January 30th. The program is open to the public and will be presented at the UHS Cafeteria. In the meantime, here are some tips that Cellphone.Org published to protect kids who use cellphones.

Be Aware of Surroundings

Emphasize to your child the importance of being aware of his/her surroundings. The element of surprise is a powerful tool. This new technology has created a diversion of sorts for criminals who are intent on stealing these valuable devices. When you are preoccupied with a phone conversation, you may not hear footsteps behind you or notice a person who seems to be just a little too interest in what you are doing. While your child is absorbed in what the friend on the other end of the line is saying, a predator could be approaching to take their phone.

It isn’t just criminals your child must be concerned about. Talking on a cell phone while walking, bicycling, skateboarding, or driving can be a hazard. It is important to pay attention to traffic when performing any of these actions near a roadway.

Parental safety controls

 Take time to carefully consider which cell phone to purchase for your child. Choose a cell phone with parental safety controls. Programmable cell phones allow you to decide who your child can receive phone calls from and who they are permitted to call. You can set the numbers in their cell phone and eliminate the opportunity for someone to whom your child should not be speaking to call or be called from the cell phone.

Never talk to strangers.

 Though you probably already gave this advice to them when they were young, as your children grow older they lose some of their fear of the people they don’t know and often need to be reminded that this rule still stands. Developing new friendships is exciting for the younger generations. In their excitement over the prospect of earning a new friend and the ensuing efforts to impress the person, children often forget their basic training from their early years. Their growing confidence in their own ability to recognize danger often leaves them vulnerable. Children are generally not skilled in recognizing danger in unfamiliar people. They don’t realize that predators are skillfully adept at blending in and appearing harmless. These predators are truly the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing, patiently developing friendships over time with the intent of eventually luring your child into a face-to-face meeting. A reminder of such facts could prevent a tragedy.

Discuss Sexting

 Sexting, for those of you who don’t know, is the act of sending sexually graphic pictures or messages from one cell phone to another. The most common instances of sexting in the younger set involve sending pictures of them in provocative clothing or completely nude. It is important that you discuss this practice with your child and let them know in no uncertain terms that it is not allowed and will not be tolerated. If you are afraid to bring this subject to their attention in case your child doesn’t already know what it is, don’t. You can be assured that your child is already familiar with it. You will not be teaching them about something they don’t already know about. Don’t wait until you see evidence that your child is engaging in this practice before establishing this rule. If you avoid this discussion because of a fear that you will be informing your child about something of which they know nothing about, you run the risk of them facing serious consequences.

Don’t Disclose Private Information

Advise your child to be careful about what information is discussed in public. Identity theft should always be a concern. Your child may be too young to have need for credit lines, loans and/or credit cards, but there are plenty of dishonest people who are old enough to find them useful. Even with limited information, a motivated criminal can find a way to obtain the remainder of the information they would need to use it to their full advantage. Your child is too young to understand the deviousness and conniving of these types of individuals and just how damaging their actions can be, but they would learn quickly when they eventually get out on their own and discover their identity has been stolen. The process of repairing the damage is time consuming and often costly. Identity theft usually leaves residual stain which cannot be completely eliminated. Teach your child to limit public calls on their cell phones to general conversations and leave the private conversations for times when they are, well, in private.

Have a plan for bullying

Encourage your child to talk to you about any concerning phone calls or text messages they may receive. It is important that your child knows what to do in the event that he/she receives harassing phone calls on the cell phone. Any type of threatening or bullying phone calls or text messages should be reported to you so that you can help them decide how best to handle the situation. This includes sexually inappropriate pictures, messages, or requests. If something like this occurs there are a few options available to you and your child. You can contact your cell phone provider and ask to have the number changed. Most providers will do this at least once free of charge. And, if you are concerned, please contact your local law enforcement department to report the harassing and threatening behavior.

It seems like just yesterday, when we all struggled to learn how those push button phones worked. Today, when I need to learn what an app is and how it will make my life easier using my iPhone, I ask a teenager to help me!

Technology is rapidly evolving and will continue to do so. As parents, we must be prepared to adapt our rules accordingly.

Remember that criminals are not scared by technology and are using it to find easier ways to find victims. They are just waiting for opportunity to present itself.

And criminals are not the only danger from which your child needs protection. Your child depends on you to lead them away from trouble, even if they do not always appreciate your guidance.

As always, our mission at UPD is simple: to make Ukiah as safe as possible. If you have any suggestions or comments about how we can improve, please feel free to call me, complete our online survey, or leave a crime tip on our website: 

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Safety · Professionalism · Community Service