Tom Grimes told parents the Internet and social networking can be wonderful tools but they must be used wisely and their children probably do not understand how to do that and it can put them at risk.
“The best thing we can do is teach our kids what the pitfalls are,” he explained during his Internet Awareness presentation. “What your kid posts at 15, it is going be searchable when they are 25, 35. Our kids are making mistakes for the whole world to see."
Grimes, an Internet awareness specialist, delivered a strong, eye-opening message to students at Clarkstown North and South high schools on Monday and parents at night as part of the Clarkstown District’s Dignity for All program. School District Superintendent Margaret Keller-Cogan introduced Grimes, saying she what she found online was unexpected.
“So much of the content I found was surprisingly alarming,” she said.
The current generation of high school students is the first generation to find it natural to use the computer and social networking whereas most parents do not.
According to Grimes, that does not mean parents should overlook computer usage, they need to get involved.
Grimes advised parents to be their child’s “friend” on Facebook and see what they are posting online. Parents should look at their child’s “friend” list and find out how many are actually known and not claiming to a friend of a friend. When children are young, they are told not to talk to strangers, however with social networking the warning does not always get followed.
Find out their reasons for going online and visiting social networking sites such as “Twitter,” “Friendster,” “Omegle,” “Chatroulette,” “MySpace,” and “FormSpring.” Be alert to any changes in behavior and online usage.
"We need to raise our awareness. It’s up to us as parents to know what our kids are doing,” he said. “Google your name, your kids’ names."
Parents said they would act on the advice.
“I’m going to find more out about Facebook,” said Judy Kabatsky, mother of a 10th grader. “I think I’ll be a lot more vigilant about it.”
Elizabeth Muenzer already speaks to her 10th grade twins about the Internet.
“I’m always talking to my kids about a lot of the points he covered,” she said. “I think I’ll be more strict about the computer.”
Grimes detailed incidents of Cyber Bullying, sexual assault, Cyber stalking, textual harassment , sexting and other acts of violence across the country that took place because the criminals were opportunists targeting kids who can share too much information online or get drawn into relationships not knowing who the other person actually is. He shared statistics that girls are victims 75 percent of the time and boys are victimized 25 percent of the time.
“Cyber Bullying is not a technology problem,” said Grimes, a retired, 20-veteran of the New York City Police Department.
It often involves friends or former friends hurting one another. He described Cyber Bullying as a small version of what terrorists do – try to alter lifestyles – in these cases those of individuals or a small group.
Colleges and employers check the Internet for information on applicants. In light of that, Grimes said parents must be the editorial staff or filter for the photos or remarks their child posts on a web site or blog.
The presentation, sponsored by the PTSA of North and South high schools, Felix Festa PTA and PTA Council attracted a few dozen parents and administrators.
“All this information was so overwhelming,” said Muenzer. “It could be any of our kids.”
“I found it very interesting,” said MaryKay Humenn, parent of high school and college juniors. “I found it very informative.”
Parents need to stay aware.
“Communicate with your child,” Grimes said. “It’s as simple as that. Talk and listen to your children because this is a natural part of their life what they do social networking wise. Talk to your kids, stay involved.”