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Kids, parents share the burden of internet safety

Updated: Jun. 10, 2021 at 4:00 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - June is officially regarded as national internet safety month after a resolution was passed by the U.S. Senate in 2005. The idea behind the move was with more kids out of school there are more chances for them to be online and that opens the door to the possibility of more problems.

“There are people out there who will do our children harm and we have to take care of them by involving them.” said District Attorney Ben David.

Ben David believes that starts with simply having a conversation about the dangers of being online.

“I can tell you they want you to be in charge.” David said. “I know that sounds crazy to hear, but it’s actually true.”

It’s never too early to start the conversation, especially with the amount of time spent on a device. American’s spent on average 82 minutes per day on social media during 2020 - visits to TikTok’s website grew nearly 600-percent, Instagram was up 43-percent on average.

“Kids need to know that when you hit send there’s no putting that genie back in the bottle.” David said.

That genie can be released any number of people, including friends.

“What I share with our kids is that there are over 700 registered sex offenders who have been released from prison and now live in our area.” David said. “When we arrest them for subsequent crimes, it is not uncommon to of course get into their computers with a search warrant and see pictures of our kids and they’re the ones that kids are sharing with each other.”

From there, those pictures are anyone’s for the taking.

“we set up one of those houses that everyone has now seen on tv where the predator thinks he’s going to see a 14-year-old and it’s a bunch of cops.” said david. “we did that in burgaw, north carolina a few years ago and we had eight grown men from as far away as canada, virginia and different parts of this state coming to knock on that door.”

Another door they’re knocking on taps right into the insecurities of adolescents who are easily consumed with likes and views. State District Attorney Josh Stein puts the onus on the social media sites themselves for opening the door.

“For pre-teens we don’t need them on social media websites, there’s too many risks.” Stein said. “There’s self-esteem issues, cyber-bullying, there’s privacy issues – Facebook just needs to throw away this idea of a social media website for 8,9,10,11, and 12-year old’s. There’s an opportunity for people when they’re teenagers to get on social media, it’s too much as it is, we don’t need those problems for middle and high schools coming into our elementary schools.”

“The FBI tells those of us in this office that the vast majority of kids that get approached online by predators don’t tell their parents and they don’t i think because there might be shame or they might think they can handle the situation and simply stated they cannot.” said Ben David.

What’s a parent to do? At minimum start with the device itself – set it up in a way that it helps set your child up for a safer experience.

“There’s a website called internetmatters.org which gives you step-by-step guides on how to set parental controls.” said U.S. Cellular store manager Roy Badillo. “Set limits on the apps that they can download, even limit online purchases or even online advertising.”

“Parents make the best police, and this is a moment for parents to be in charge.” said Ben David. “More than anything this is a trust issue. We all want to trust our children, and just as we talk about when they begin to drive it’s not you, it’s other people on the road it’s the same thing with the super-highway of the internet.”

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