It started with a disagreement between friends at school. Then came threatening phone calls at home. Finally, taunting and name-calling on Facebook and Twitter.
By the end of a 24- to 48-hour period, Cara Cockerham had called the Fishers Police Department, and she had shut down her 13-year-old daughter’s Facebook page.
Although the incident happened three years ago, when her daughter was a seventh-grader, Cockerham said the memory is still fresh.
Her daughter, whom she does not want to identify, was being cyber bullied.
“A lot of the kids turned on her because she told her mom,” said Cockerham, 48, Fishers.
Parents can learn how to identify misuse of social media — from ways to prevent abuse to dealing with the aftermath of an incident — at the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department’s free public education forum Monday. The Teen Social Media program will be from 7 to 8 p.m. at the Hamilton County 4-H Fairgrounds, 2003 E. Pleasant St., Noblesville.
“Parents need to just really look and listen. You need to be in the places where they go. And don’t be caught off guard,” said Hamilton County Detective Alex Petty, a father of four and a lead investigator for the Sheriff’s Department on social media. He will lead the forum, along with Detective Kija Ireland and technology specialist Zach SeRine.
Social media crimes have increased to more than 100 reported cases annually in Hamilton County. About 35 percent of children ages 13 to 18 have received a suggestive or highly explicit message, Petty said.
But more tools are becoming available to combat online bullying. Messages on Facebook, Twitter, cell texting and other electronic platforms now fall under laws related to bullying.
Indiana legislators passed a law last year placing greater responsibility on federally funded schools for bullying and cyber bullying incidents, on and off school property.
The law requires public schools for the first time to collect data on bullying. The Indiana Department of Education will release the information in August.
Sheriff’s Deputy Bryant Orem said Monday’s forum would open the eyes of parents and teens about the dangers of social media and networking.
“The majority of our young people are online every day, whether it is games, texting, smartphones or other technology. Many, if not most of them, do not realize the potential dangers and pitfalls that can occur from this use,” Orem said.
He said parents should know how to recognize warning signs of social media misuse, know best practices to use and talk openly with children about the dangers.
Orem said parents should begin talking to their kids about social media dangers as soon as they start using technology.
While providers offer filtering, tracking and other software applications, the best practice, Orem said, is “be a parent.”
“The parent pays for the technology, so don’t be afraid to check it or remove it if it is the best interest of your child,” he said. “Too many parents are overly concerned with being their child’s friend rather than being their child’s parent.”
Cockerham knows how important it is to be a parent.
Her best advice: “Be very, very active and attentive in their lives.”
Star reporter Eric Weddle contributed to this story.
Call Star reporter Betsy Reason at (317) 444-6049. Follow her on Twitter: @BetsyReason.
Teen Social Media forum
• What: Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department’s public education forum for parents and middle school-age children and older.
• When, where: 7 to 8 p.m. Monday, Hamilton County 4-H Fairgrounds, 2003 E. Pleasant St., Noblesville.
• Cost: Free.
• Good to know: Child care will be provided for preschool and elementary-age children.
• Info: http://www.hamiltoncounty.in.gov
• Other help: Project CyberSafe for Parents, at www.indy.gov
7 warning signs of social media misuse
• 1. Displaying risky behaviors.
• 2. Posting inappropriate materials, photos, blogs and comments.
• 3. Hiding or attempting to hide technology use from adults.
• 4. Referring to sexual activity or drug use.
• 5. Creating false or misleading profiles.
• 6. Withdrawal or a change in friends or usual behavior.
• 7. Lower grades, depression or sudden health problems
6 best practices for parents
• 1. Check all technology devices on a frequent and regular basis.
• 2. Know the passwords for all your child’s accounts, including phone lock passwords.
• 3. Know and approve online friends.
• 4. Monitor activities and establish rules about what can be shared.
• 5. Talk to your kids.
• 6. Find more productive uses of time than your child spending time alone on a computer or phone.
5 tips for talking to your kids
• 1. Be open and approachable.
• 2. Explain your concerns.
• 3. Illustrate your talk with examples.
• 4. Talk about consequences; many colleges and employers do online searches as part of application processes.
• 5. Encourage your child not to be a bystander if they see something wrong.
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