Close Encounters with an Online Predator

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The above conversation took place a month ago and shook me to the core.

This blog post is part of the CM Rubin World Global Search for Education which poses a question each month to leading educators for reflection and sharing. This month’s question focused on Digital Citizenship. This is the story of my daughter, Grace.

Grace Ann, my 11-year-old daughter begged for an Instagram account. Her older brother had one, some of her friends had one, and I also had one. I explained to her that she was not old enough to have her own account, but could have a joint account with me. (It would be private, I would approve and post the content and who she followed and followers, and she could only access it from my device so as to be monitored.) As a parent, I felt this was a perfect opportunity to educate my child on how to use social media and be safe online.

One evening, Grace Ann was on Instagram looking and “liking” photos from the feed of JoJo Siwa, teen sensation from the hit show Dance Moms, when all of a sudden she received a private message (yes, you can still send and receive messages from strangers on a private account). The notification appeared on both my phone and the iPad she was using and I paused to see what she would do. Grace immediately brought it to my attention and I took it from there.

This predator, this sick individual, told my daughter that her profile picture was “hot” (see above, she is a child, she is not hot). My blood boiled. I realized this pervert targeted young girls who were “liking” pictures on JoJo’s feed.

I played along…

I posed as my daughter and replied to his comment, asking him if we knew each other and how old he was.

When he responded that he was 24 (and probably even older than that) I finished the conversation and told him I was, in fact, her mother and would be reporting him (plus, some other choice words).

Following this incident, Grace and I had many conversations as to what happened and how she could protect herself online. I told her how proud I was of her actions and how she came immediately to me when she got a message from someone she didn’t know.

Keeping our kids safe online is a priority for me as a parent-educator. When I speak to others about the positives, as well as negatives, online I urge parents to consider 3 things:

  1. Talk to your children about the internet and social media. How to stay safe online, protect their identity, and how to Use Social Media, not be Used by it.

  2. Be aware of all accounts, follow them and have access to them (this is not an invasion of privacy, but a necessity if anything were to ever happen).

  3. Take time to unplug. I purchased the device, I supply the internet, I will limit time spent and access as I feel fit. This is my right as a parent. Do not be afraid to set boundaries so that our children are safe and healthy.

While this is only one aspect of Digital CItizenship, I had never experienced anything hit so close to home and felt compelled to share with a larger audience. I love my children, just like I loved all of my students, and when something like this happens, my “Moma Bear” kicks in and I go into protection mode. The police were contacted, I had former students reach out who are now adults and are in law enforcement and government security. I also notified Instagram. Unfortunately, because he did not “cross the line” nothing could be done and his account was not suspended.

I share this, not to scare anyone, but rather as a reminder that we can never be too careful when it comes to children and the vastness of people connecting to them through the internet. It is never too early to start online safety conversations with kids. In the classroom, online safety or digital citizenship should not be discussed during a designated month, instead, students should hear it from all teachers and the components should be woven across the curriculum all year long.

Please, share your stories with me. Share resources you use in your classrooms or at home. Together, we can protect our children!

 

(Feel free to share this in your school and with parents, it is the reason that I blog)

Christmas 2013: Tis’ the Season to Give Technology

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Technology tops most Christmas lists, but with so many options available, choosing the perfect gift is daunting. Considerations in price, use, and longevity will help one narrow down their search. The following are three questions I ask myself before purchasing technology for others:

1. What do they want to use it for? Educational purposes? Personal uses? Both?

2. What is the price range?

3. How often will they use it and what is the life expectancy?

Below is a list of popular technology gifts for 2013 and priced to fit any budget. Many times there are comparable alternatives to the name-brands, so it is important to be informed. Do your research before making a purchase. (Disclaimer: This is not an endorsement of the product)

Children:Ages 3-8

  • Learning Tablets: The most popular is LeapPad. Options/accessories, learning games, parental controls.

  • VTech Challenger Laptop: Preloaded curriculum, educational, mimics the “look” of a laptop.

  • VTech Kidizoom Twist Plus Camera: Durable, digital camera.

Tweens and Teens:

  • Tablets: Popular devices include iPads, Kindle, and Google Nexus. Tablets are portable and functional. Used primarily for photos, videos, ereading and surfing the web.

  • Laptops: Popular devices include MacBooks, Chromebooks,and PCs. Laptops are portable and available at a variety of price ranges. The keyboard and functionality for creation and gaming make laptops a perfect choice.

  • Phones: A new phone or an upgrade on an existing one is a popular “want” for many teens. The cellular phone has become a pocket computer for most people. Internet access, apps for photos, videos, music and social media; a new phone this Christmas would be a perfect choice.

  • Beats: High-end, high-powered headphones that provide listeners with the ultimate music experience. Pricey and popular with today’s youth.

Adults:

For those techie adults in your life that already have devices, here is a short list of possibilities:

  • Chromecast: An inexpensive gadget that hooks up to your HDMI television and allows users to stream their device to the screen.

  • Amazon Prime: This upgrade in membership provides fast delivery on items purchased, unlimited streaming of movies and television programs, and access to thousands of titles.

  • Bluetooth Speaker or Keyboard: Accessories that have bluetooth capability pairs with a smartdevice and allows users to stream music from their phone, ipod, etc. The Bluetooth keyboard is wireless and a nice alternative to the touch-screen keyboards on devices.

  • Netflix Subscription: Movies and television shows available on-demand. From an iPad to the Xbox360, Netflix allows users to stream their selection on many devices.

  • Gift Cards: iTunes, Microsoft Points, and Gamestop allows those hard to buy for people choice in their purchases.

Happy Holidays! Wishing you successful Technology Gift Giving!