Why Parents Need to Understand the Dangers of Social Media

A new study shows that most teenagers hide their online activities from their parents. Not monitoring kids' computer use can have serious, long-term criminal consequences.

I came across a news story recently that really caught my eye though, if you think about it, it shouldn’t really be all that surprising. According to a new study by McAfee, the world’s largest dedicated security technology company, 70 percent of teenagers hide their online behavior from their parents.

Kids have been hiding things from their parents since the dawn of mankind. But never before have they had access to such instant and powerful technology to literally communicate with the rest of the world. The study explored the online habits, behaviors, interests and lifestyles of the first generation to truly grow up online. What the researchers found should be enough to make all parents sit up and take notice.

While many parents are basking in blissful ignorance about what their kids are doing with their computers and smart phones, teens are taking risks by posting personal information and risky photos. They’re accessing age-inappropriate content. In addition, 43 percent of teens have accessed simulated violence online, 36 percent have accessed sexual topics and 32 percent have accessed nude content or pornography.

It gets worse.

More than half of parents insist their teens are telling them everything they do online and are in control when it comes to monitoring their teen’s online activities. However, an astounding 70 percent of teens have found a way to get around that monitoring. In fact, the study outlined 10 key ways teens are fooling their parents, including:

  • Clearing the browser history (53%)
  • Close/minimize browser when parents walk in (46%)
  • Hide or delete IMs or videos (34%)
  • Lie or omit details about online activities (23%)
  • Use a computer parents don’t check (23%)
  • Use an internet-enabled mobile device (21%)
  • Use privacy settings to make certain content viewable only by friends (20%)
  • Use Private browsing modes (20%)
  • Create private email address unknown to parents (15%)
  • Create duplicate/fake social network profiles (9%)

All of this opens the door to serious crimes, including child pornography.  Often, the situation appears fairly benign. For example, a 17 year-old young man (who, for purposes of prosecution in Wisconsin, is considered an adult) has a 14 or 15-year old girlfriend.  If she is under 16, we’re getting into felonious behaviors.

With cameras in our phones and Facebook, when the young man takes sexually suggestive photos of his girlfriend and then sends them to other 17 or 18 year-olds or posts them on Facebook, it can be construed as child pornography for those who possess it. Young people do not realize how far-reaching this is nor do they understand the possible consequences.

If you use a computer or send suggestive text messages or pictures with the intention of having a sexual encounter with an underage individual, you are now using this technology to commit a sex crime. Potentially, you could be charged with a felony. When you send that suggestive photo to one of your Facebook friends, you are also sending it to their friends’ friends. You may also be unwittingly sending it to detectives who routinely browse the internet, posing as underage individuals.

Parents, wise up. If necessary, become a snoop! Be aware that smart phones, computers and Facebook are fair game to monitor at any given time. Remember, too, that passwords on your child’s computer or phone make it virtually impossible for you to see what’s going on unless kids give you access.  If they refuse, there are third party vendors like Net Nanny who have software programs designed to allow you to see what your kids are doing.

Stepping up your monitoring approach may not make you very popular around the house right now. But, in the long run, you could save your child from a serious crime that has a lifetime of consequences.

About Attorney Mark Powers
Attorney Mark Powers is a partner at the criminal defense law firm of Huppertz & Powers, S.C. in Waukesha. Previously, Powers served as an Assistant District Attorney with the Waukesha County District Attorney's office as well as a municipal judge in North Prairie.  He currently focuses in the area of criminal defense, and has handled many cases involving operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated, domestic disputes, and drug offenses.

Powers attended Valparaiso University School of Law, where he received his Juris Doctorate. Prior to law school, Mark attended the University of Wisconsin, Lacrosse where he received his bachelor of science in Political Science.

For more information, please visit www.waukeshacriminalattorneys.com.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

skinnyDUDE July 29, 2012 at 10:52 AM
It certainly looks like a growing concern which parents need to be aware of. Seems like too often the concern comes well after something bad occurs. But your points are valid. Puting one over on the parents is as old as dirt to begin with . The stakes are just much higher right now with the technology and the ease in which someone can make a huge mistake!


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