Tuesday, 22 March 2016 16:53

There’s a need to ‘KnowMore’

Written by  Lori Helms

Tutorial warns of the ‘new norm’ of unsafe — and often illegal —online habits.

The average kid gets an iPad at age 5, and gets a mobile phone at age 10.

The average child checks their phone 250 times a day.

The average middle school and high school student is constantly telling the story of their day through Snapchat.

The average teenage girl suffers from depression and low self-esteem due to constant social media exposure and pressure.

Mooresville resident Sue Wind can cite statistic upon statistic regarding the cyberspace habits of children, but what she believes all the number-crunching boils down to is this: a child’s interaction with his or her mobile device is an absolute addiction, and a rather dangerous one at that.

These habits — and the terrible truth that many parents, willfully or not, have no idea what their children are up to on the Internet — are the reason Wind, a college professor experienced in teaching, designing and implementing criminal justice courses as well as providing training to financial institutions regarding cybercrimes, founded her business Parents KnowMore about a year ago. Her hope was to provide outreach to parents through a series of seminars regarding what they should know about their child’s online behavior, what they can do to keep them safe in cyberspace and just what type of online activities, such as “sexting” (sharing nude photos), could get them into trouble with the law.

What she’s learned in the year since, however, is that reaching parents is not as easy a fix as she had hoped. Whether through apathy or ignorance, she says the majority of parents she’s spoken with either believe their children are entitled to their online privacy, or they have absolutely no clue that the calculator icon on their child’s smart phone is hiding a ghost app that holds all their nude selfies.

The key, she found, was educating kids directly and partnering with their schools to do that, because the dangers in cyberspace for children and teens are plentiful, and the probability that what they are texting and sharing could be a cyber crime is real.

“They don’t understand that ‘delete’ does not exist in cyberspace,” Wind says. “It’s all forensic evidence that can be retrieved by law enforcement.”

And that’s bad news for the young girls and boys who think swapping pictures of each other in various stages of nudity or shenanigans is okay.

“Kids are getting arrested for distribution of child pornography because they’re all sexting, (as well as) child exploitation and even hacking into networks of schools,” says Wind. “These are all cyber crimes. ... It’s crazy. This is the new norm.”

So when a tennis injury came knocking and Wind was laid up on her couch for days on end last year, she decided to design a tutorial for students and educators that could be presented at school assemblies, focusing on what’s okay and what’s not when kids are online (view more information at parentsknowmore.com).

Highlights of the 15-minute tutorial include:

• Appropriate and inappropriate behaviors online.

• Cyber bullying and the state laws pertaining to it.

• A school’s individual social media/technology policy.

• Password protection.

• Consequences.

There is a 10-question quiz at the end of the presentation, and students are required to have at least eight correct answers or they must re-take it. The quiz provides the school with documentation that their students have been instructed on appropriate online behaviors and its policy about social media use — something of great value if the time comes when a student gets crossways with school rules, or even worse, the law.

Wind says the tutorial is designed mostly with fourth- through eighth-grade students in mind. Although she also has tutorials for high school students (that may also include information on sexting and suicide prevention if approved by the individual school), she says, “I believe by high school, it’s too late.”

It’s a sad yet painfully honest assessment, but that doesn’t mean her efforts have been in vain. Locally, she’s provided cyber awareness assemblies at Community School of Davidson, Langtree Charter School, Pine Lake Prep and Bailey and Bradley middle schools. Her most recent local assembly was at Grand Oaks Elementary, one of her first clients, where students will be participating in her recommended “Digital Citizenship Week” to learn more about cyber bullying and being good online stewards.

Statewide, Wind has held more than 40 school assemblies, reaching about 5,000 students across several school districts. She was invited by the superintendent of Burke County schools to offer a demonstration of her tutorial to the district’s principals, and she has been contacted by schools in Florida and Alabama as well for her expertise and newly designed, very affordable, tutorial.

Wind sells it for $450 per school (“That’s like 10 cents a kid, it’s a no-brainer,” she says). It’s web-based, so there is no licensing or software involved, and it can be completed in about 15 minutes. The investment is relatively minimal, but in her estimation, its value is limitless.

“It’s part of a process,” she says, comparing educating children about cyber safety to teaching them how to drive. “I don’t just give my kids the keys and say, ‘Have fun!’”

From a business perspective, Wind says she has no competition for this kind of service and, at her husband’s urging, is working toward a patent. He’s concerned that others will lift her idea and run with it, but Wind sees it differently.

“If this takes off and makes money, then great,” she says. “I feel like this is something so needed and good ... and if someone wants to copy and take things, then go right at it. But I feel like I’m kind of the whole package because of my background. No one can copy who I am.”

And, she adds, no one — neither parent nor child — can afford to be in the dark about what’s happening online.

“This stuff is not going away,” she says. “I don’t want to see people’s kids destroy their lives.”

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