The footing is constantly shifting in the fluid world of social media, and schoolkids are pretty adept at staying two or three strides ahead of their parents.
Facebook? That’s where Grandpa posts a photo of the fish he caught. Instagram? It welcomed the forward wave of migration, but the kids didn’t stay long. Then they moved on to Snapchat. Parents may think they’re monitoring their kids’ activity there as a “friend,” but did you know your daughter could send something to one friend, something else to 10 others, and in the process close Mom and Dad entirely out of the loop?
More immediately, are you aware of Kik?
Keeping up with it all can be a dizzying prospect, but it’s a parental imperative. “Whatever you put on the Internet stays there forever. And it has legs,” said local computer whiz Stewart Rogers.
It’s a sobering prospect for parents as they wonder whether college admissions people and prospective employers troll the Internet to see what an applicant has been up to. (And they do, by the way.)
All of this forms the basis for the latest talk scheduled by the local support group Partnership for Awareness. The discussion theme, “Protecting Your Child’s Privacy & Reputation in Social Media,” will be explored by experts on Friday, Feb. 19, at 9 a.m. in the Huntington Middle School cafeteria.
Rogers, technology director of Alice Computerworks on Huntington Drive in San Marino, will be one of the speakers. “For lack of a better way to put it,” he said, “we’re going to talk basically on the 101 of how to hack your kids.”
Police Chief John Incontro will be the other speaker. He plans to talk about some recent troubling cases involving kids and social media.
“Any solid, specific things that parents can do, it’s great,” said Helen Kim Spitzer, Partnership for Awareness’ newsletter chair and — more importantly — the mother of three kids who went through or are making their way through San Marino’s public schools. “You have to be smart about these things. You can’t bury your head in the sand and assume everything is OK. Things can escalate very quickly with social media.
“I’ve found that these talks are great conversation starters [with kids] at the dinner table.”
The purpose of this PfA talk is to help parents become “cyberwise,” learning how to monitor their children’s online activities and teach them about managing a thing called the digital footprint.
Speakers at these events often talk from a big-picture perspective: These are the things to be aware of, here are some things to watch out for.
Rogers has decided to delve more into the nitty gritty. “We’re going to have some hands-on demos,” he said. “They’ll be PowerPoint-based — pictures, and step-by-step. It will also be handed out to folks so they can take it home.”
He’ll start with smartphones and tablets and move on to the computer, revealing potential problems based on all the technology out there that is social media-oriented and app-oriented.
“We’re going to talk about ways to basically filter the Internet on home-based computers and home-based networks,” Rogers said. “We’re going to talk about hardware and software solutions, and monitoring solutions for phones.”
For example, he said, there are routers loaded with filtering software. There’s also a free service that sends anything that comes off the modem and into the router to an organization that has white lists and black lists for the Internet. Parents can make the determination that YouTube is OK, but this is never coming into the house.
Rogers is aware of the high academic achievement in the San Marino Unified School District — which can be a double-edged sword in these matters. Thus, a parent can decide whether to have this filtering service on the computer or, better, in the router.
“I can go into the internals of a Mac or Windows PC and make changes there,” he said. “Younger folks will never know where the changes are. The more savvy teens, especially those getting into coding and tech in school, will know where to find that stuff. So it’s better to put it on the hardware side — protected by a password that only the parent knows. That way, they can’t change it even if they know where it is.”
Incontro said he wants to talk to parents about some alarming new developments in the realm in which young people communicate. The latest concern is a newly popular messaging app called Kik. It stormed into the news just last week when, according to the New York Times, a 13-year-old girl in Virginia was stabbed to death after going to meet an 18-year-old man she met through the site. An 18-year-old man and a 19-year-old woman were charged with the killing.
Kik and Yik Yak are two apps that go to great lengths to shield users from view, thwarting the ability of law enforcement to monitor them, according to the report.
“There are anonymous sites where you can hide who you are and a lot of information,” Incontro said. “I want to talk to parents about what’s happening, what they should be looking for and the perils of not monitoring what your kids do on the web.”
He continued: “My desire is not to scare anybody. For the most part, our kids are great. But we also have parents who don’t talk about anything. They hide stuff. In the past, the schools were reluctant, now they’re very much involved. We have a great partnership.”
The risk of personal things showing up on the Internet — and enjoying an astonishing shelf life there — will be another important topic of conversation. If a girl sends a provocative photo to a boyfriend, or if a boy sends a racially insensitive joke to a friend, they may think these things will live only on the other person’s phone, but there are several ways to bridge to the Internet.
“I’m going to simply say, ‘You need to teach your kid to have restraints,’” Rogers said, “because 10 years from now, whatever you put on the Internet could basically ruin your career, or lower your career prospects.”
Kim Spitzer mulled this over and said, “It’s a harsh reality for our kids today. Sure, all of us made some poor decisions growing up, but it’s not filmed and up on YouTube somewhere. And it’s there forever, because you don’t own it. Someone else filmed it with their smartphone.
“You want kids to be kids and be able to make mistakes and recover from them, because that’s part of growing up — learning from those. But with social media, it’s really different.”
Admission to this talk is free for Partnership for Awareness members. A donation of $10 per person is suggested for all others. For further information, visit partnershipforawareness.org.