MISSOULA — Internet safety again made headlines this month after the arrest of a Missoula teacher on charges of attempted sexual abuse. Investigators allege some of the communication took place online.
That’s the kind of information that could make many parents pause — do they know enough about what their kids are doing online? And who is reaching out to them?
MTN News talked with Katie Hall, a forensic technician with the Missoula Police Department.
“There's not a bad app, it’s just how you chose to use it So many of the apps anymore aren’t just games or just photos; you can communicate through any app at this point,” said Hall.
Hall has spent a lot of her career talking to kids and parents about internet safety. She recommends joining children where they live these days -- on the apps where they’re communicating with the world.
“Even though they may not want a Snapchat account or have no interest in Instagram, still getting these accounts and having their kids give them a tutorial about that app...so the parents are aware of how it works and child is aware that the parents understand how these apps work. And something I always suggest is that parents are friends or connected with their children on these apps.” - Katie Hall
She told MTN News that sometimes kids are the ones who inadvertently put themselves in the crosshairs of a predator by revealing too much.
“It could be something in their user name or email address that says their name, date of birth; maybe something they're really interested in,” Hall said. “Or in their emojis that they used to describe themselves on Instagram. Right there it's giving out a lot of information and that person can easily deceive a child into thinking that they know them when they don't.
The Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force Program is a national organization dedicated to investigating and prosecuting Internet crimes against children.
Additionally, the website Common Sense Media can help a parent make sense of the latest app or determine if a new show is appropriate for their kids through not only parent review, but kid reviews, too - the ones we rely on to help us navigate the newness.
“The media that these kids are on, the cellphones and the computers are just an extension of themselves. When I do presentations for kids, I always say your parents are the ones who don’t know what's going on here. You guys are smarter than your parents here so maybe go home and show your parents how to turn their privacy settings on to their Instagram account. So, we talk to the kids when I do these presentations that they need to educate their parents as well.” - Katie Hall
Something else to keep in mind is to make sure children feel comfortable talking with adults when something uncomfortable or disturbing is found online.
Online safety tools for parents, children, educators: https://www.netsmartz.org/Home
Parenting Safe Children
Guide to keeping kids safe from sexual assault. Practical information for parents about body safety: https://parentingsafechildren.com/