As technology becomes more engrained in our daily lives, parents have greater responsibility to teach their kids about cyber safety.
“The thing that makes youth more vulnerable to cyberbullying and/or dangerous digital materials is simply access,” said Andrea Kamwendo, an adolescent health educator for LifeSmart Youth. “Youth are far more connected to social media and the internet now more than ever. A recent study done by Common Sense Media…shows that 89 percent of teens ages 13-17 have their own smartphones. The study found that 81 percent of teens use social media, and 38 percent of those teens say they use it multiple times an hour. This constant access to each other and the world beyond allows for access to dangerous and/or inaccurate material and people they do not know personally, and it makes it more difficult to get reprieve from any bullying they might experience at school.”
LifeSmart Youth has been serving youth for 75 years, administering programs like “Step Up for Kindness” to prevent bullying and “Cyber Safe in Cyberspace” to teach adults best practices for guiding their young ones through safe social media and internet usage.
“Young people need to understand that for all the benefits of online access, there may be just as many drawbacks,” said Kamwendo. “Often, youth do not consider the risk they are taking when ‘friending’ someone or allowing someone to ‘follow’ them that they do not personally know. Child predators are becoming increasingly savvier at using these online platforms while young people think they are invincible.”
Kristen Martin, a juvenile community prosecutor in the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office, said that “it is not uncommon that children will tell us that they are friends with, follow or chat with individuals that are strangers to them. It is important to engage children in a conversation about digital strangers and what is appropriate information to share and what is not. It’s important to remember [that] when you post to the internet, you no longer control that information or how far it goes or reaches.”
The Marion County Prosecutor’s Office provides a free program called “Project Cybersafe,” which focuses on identifying cyberbullying behavior and its consequences, while also highlighting the potential dangers of social media. This program has impacted 50,000 students in Marion County since its start in 2011.