Parents should know what their children are up to and never fear exercising parental control.
That was the advice crime analyst Megan Soares gave members of the Community Resource Council on Wednesday as she delivered the adult version of an anti-cyberbullying and anti-sexting presentation. Soares also does a version for minors through the Los Banos Police Department.
"Parents have to be just as smart, if not more, with technology as children," Soares said.
She said children between 8 and 18 average 7.5 hours of media contact per day, which includes being on sites such as Twitter and Facebook as well as texting and online gaming.
Soares said parents should monitor online activity, demand passwords to all social media pages and phones and be aware that their children may try to trick them.
"Check your browser history," Soares said. "Kids often have a fake page to contact their parents and a real page for their friends. If you click on the browser history and see pictures of them that are bad, you'll know it's a different page."
Soares said the average teen sends 1,600 text messages per month. She said parents often want their children to have cellphones for emergencies, but she recommends putting restrictions on phone use and programming in three numbers -- mom, dad and a grandparent.
Soares said parents should collect cellphones before bedtime.
"Most of the things that happen are not at 7 o'clock at night while you're having family time," she said, "it's 2 in the morning when your kids can't sleep and they're texting people or uploading stupid photos."
Soares said the decisions children make while texting or on social media late at night often result in problems at school. Soares said parents are better off contacting the school about cyberbullying issues than the police. She said the police can only intervene when there is a criminal act, but the state's education code gives schools wide authority, whether the bullying takes place on or off campus.
The presentation also included what is punishable by law. For example, if a teen sends a partially or fully nude picture to a boyfriend or girlfriend, that youngster could be prosecuted for distributing child pornography in many jurisdictions.
Soares played a video featuring the parents of a 15-year-old Los Gatos girl who hanged herself because nude pictures she sent a boy were circulated throughout her school.
Soares said parents should establish a media agreement with their children consisting of things they agree not to do through texting and use of social media. She said if that agreement is violated parents should not be afraid to take away, phones, computers and gaming systems.
"Take stuff away. They don't have to have a video game and TV in their room, take their phone away," Soares said. "Let them know there's consequences."
To inquire about having the anti-cyberbullying and anti-sexting presentation delivered to your community group, call Megan Soares at (209) 827-7070, ext. 142.