Get your teenager mad! How to keep them safe from online predators
It's a problem in New Jersey and across the country.
Cyber predators lurk online, waiting games and chat rooms, visiting social media sites in the hopes of connecting with unsuspecting victims.
During a special town hall event on protecting children from cyber predators at New Jersey 101.5, State Police Lt. John Pizzuro, the commander of the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, said as technology advances, individuals are finding new ways to stalk our children.
"Individuals don't realize the amount of people involved in this. As technology has increased, we've seen an uptick," he said.
Child psychologist Dr. Steven Tobias said he's concerned about the impact technology is having on kids and their families.
"I think we need to see these things as a tool, and certainly it's potentially a dangerous tool. I don't think we should give it to our kids without rules, without limits, without discussion of the implications of it," Tobias said.
Why are kids online all the time?
Tobias said because children don't see who they're communicating with face to face, "it makes it easier for them to do things you would never do in person, sexting for example."
When New Jersey 101.5 News Director Eric Scott asked about children getting smartphones younger and younger ages, Tobias answered "I don't understand why.
"If it's a child doesn't need it, why give it to them? I really don't think any elementary school child has the maturity, the judgement, to use this properly."
He also said the more kids rely on their phones for communication with everyone, the more they socialize over the Internet, the more disconnected and isolated they feel.
"It's not a true connection. You don't have to deal with rejection and social pressures, but because of that it makes it more problematic," he said. "The friends you have on Facebook aren't real friends. It's the kids you see, that you invite over, that you play with. Those are your friends."
Pizzuro stressed in today's online world, the self-esteem of many children is tied to their online activities, and whether they get compliments and "likes" on social media sites.
"What the children don't realize is the person on the other side is a predator, and what they're doing is grooming," he said.
"They're going to give them electronics, and compliments and the kids feel important, and some of these kids will then wind up meeting these predators," Tobias said.
Tobias pointed out for predators who are mentally ill, stalking their victims is a compulsion.
"It's the darker side of human nature, when technology really enables to do this more than ever before, that's why we're seeing it," he said.
Get your kids mad
So what's a parent to do?
Tobias stressed parents must take control of the situation because "it's their phone. It's their computer."
When a parent gives a device to the child, the parent needs to be very clear about that, he said — "that this is my device I am lending to you to use, and I just want you to know when I want to get it back I expect to get it back, and if I check to see what you've been doing, that's absolutely my right."
During the show, the mother of a 14-year-old girl called in to share her story, of how she discovered her daughter had been in contact with a male, adult stranger for a year. She spoke of how shocked and disturbed she was, and how upset her daughter was because her mother had meddled in her relationship with her "boyfriend".
"Kids don't truly understand the dangers in this," Tobias said. "It does speak to the need to monitor what your kids are doing, and also to have frequent conversations about them with this. I don't think we can assume kids are being responsible, that they're being safe."
He also stressed this kind of situation speaks to the importance of setting limits on our children.
"It's okay if the kid is mad at the parent, but I also empathize with the parents," he said.
Pizzuro said it's important for parents to communicate with police if they discover that kind of situation, so the predator can be tracked down — but he also stressed it's vital for parents to educate themselves about cyber threats and technology.
Tobias advised parents to set limits.
"It's your device and you have every right and responsibility to set limits on their use, he said. "And you have to monitor what your children are doing, and spend more time with your kids, have dinner with your kids. The more time you spend in unstructured situations with your kid, the more likely they are to talk to you, the more likely these things are to come out."