On a bright, sunny first day of school, I walked through the front doors of my middle school and was immediately greeted by the office manager.
“Deputy Cranford, thank goodness you are here!”
Those words, and their urgency, were not what I wanted to hear walking through the door of my new job as a School Resource Officer. I found Jessica, a 7th grade student, sitting in the counseling office, doubled over in a chair weeping uncontrollably. The school guidance counselor, with a look of sadness and concern, sat next to her rubbing her back, trying to calm the distraught twelve-year-old girl.
Through the tears, Jessica told me that over the summer her boyfriend had asked her to send him a nude picture of herself; which is known among students as “sexting.” She didn’t want to do it, but he pestered her relentlessly until she did. After recounting her story, she framed her torso by placing one hand below her chin and the other at her waistline and said, “I sent him this.”
What advice could I give to Jessica and her mother? “Don’t do that again,” wasn’t going to cut it. There had to be more. There had to be a way for Jessica’s mother to adequately supervise her daughter’s online activities, and for Jessica to learn how to navigate cyber space safely.
I wrote Parenting in a Digital World for parents like Jessica’s mother. All parents want to keep their children safe, but the Internet seems overwhelming to many who did not grow up in the Internet age. My book will walk parents, step-by-step, through the process of making their child’s online world a safer place.
Real cyber safety is more than simply turning on some parental controls on your child’s device and walking away thinking your child is safe. In my book, I lay out a game plan for parents to follow.
The first and most important safety factor in a child’s life is a parent who loves them and is willing to talk to them about what is going on in their everyday life. Starting a conversation with a teenager about cyber safety might be intimidating for many non-tech savvy parents. In Parenting in a Digital World you will find my Mobile Device and Internet Usage Contract. I recommend sitting down with your child and go over the contract. The contract is a springboard to begin an on-going conversation about cyber safety with your child. At the end of each point on the contract, ask your child why that rule is a good idea, or what could happen if you did not follow it? Explore these answers with a follow-up question.
Finally, when you complete the contract, tell your child that if they make a mistake (they inevitably will) and come to you immediately, there will not be any punishment. By doing this you create a safe place for your child to go to when they are involved in a cyberbullying incident. Studies have shown that only 1 in 10 teens will voluntarily tell their parent about being cyberbullied. Their primary fear is that their parent will overreact and take their phone away from them. If they think they will get punished (i.e., lose their phone or computer) whether they tell you or not, they will keep it to themselves and hope you never find out. Accountability is the key to good discipline. If they violate the rules of the contract and hide it, and when you find out later, they will receive the full set of consequences outlined in the contract.
Parenting in a Digital World is available on Amazon’s Bookstore.
Cyber Safety Cop’s Mobile Device and Internet Usage Contract can be downloaded from Cyber Safety Cop’s Website.
About the Author:
Clayton Cranford is a law enforcement professional based in Southern California. Clayton is one of the nation’s leading law enforcement educators on social media and child safety with more than 20 years teaching experience. He created Cyber Safety Cop, an Internet and social media safety program. It teaches parents and students how to avoid the inherent risks of social media and other web based platforms by using safe habits.