Internet safety, sexting discussed at parent workshop

Wednesday, March 16, 2011 | 10:35 p.m. CDT; updated 7:26 p.m. CDT, Saturday, April 9, 2011
Detective Tracy Perkins speaks about keeping children safe on the Internet on Wednesday at the Columbia Public Library.

COLUMBIA — A handful of parents, some with their children present, gathered Wednesday evening to learn about topics such as internet safety, sexting, cyberbullying and other issues facing children in an ever-advancing technological world.

The event, held at the Columbia Public Library, is an annual workshop for parents sponsored by Columbia Public Schools' elementary counselors.

Detective Tracy Perkins of the Cyber Crimes Task Force with the Boone County Sheriff's Department began her presentation by discussing the increase in children as young as fourth graders having accounts on social networking sites.

Perkins, who has 17 years of experience as a detective with the department, began working for the its cyber crimes task force in 2007.

She said personal information such as telephone numbers, wall information, friends, "apps" that identify real-time locations and photos viewable to "friends of friends" pose a potential danger to children using these sites.

Perkins said if parents allow their children to have a social networking account, they should review privacy settings with them and make sure they are set to keep potentially vulnerable information private. 

Texting — in particular, sexting — was another topic Perkins discussed. She described sexting as sending or receiving sexually explicit photos or messages through electronic devices.

Perkins also dismissed common misconceptions parents might have regarding sexting.

"Just because you think your kids don't, doesn't mean that's true," she said.

Perkins reiterated that sexting is both disturbing and illegal. Sending or possessing sexually explicit photos of anyone younger than 18 years old is considered child pornography, she said.

Peer pressure was a factor that Perkins touched on frequently throughout her presentation. 

"It's not that stranger out there, it's that person you go to school with everyday that will get (a student) in trouble," Perkins said.

She advised parents that if they become aware of cyber-bullying, harassment or inappropriate photos or messages, they should not delete the evidence. Instead, they should save the correspondence, file a complaint either with local authorities or the child's school and refrain from telling the suspect they are notifying police. 

Regardless of their child's age, Perkins said parents should start talking about these issues when their child begins using technology.

"As soon as they are exposing themselves to electronic devices, talk to them," Perkins said. 

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