Crack the Code: Parents learn tips to protect kids online

Published: Sep. 12, 2023 at 9:53 PM CDT
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MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - As cell phone access continues to fall into younger hands -- online predator access to your children is 10 times higher than it was 20 years ago.

“Our kids are now acting in a cyber world -- so knowing who they are talking to, knowing what applications they have, shutting those down -- limiting their access. We have to be those parents that we know what they are involved in to try our best to mitigate some of these other issues that are out there,” said Spanish Fort Police Chief John Barber.

The issues go far beyond sexual predators -- we’re talking pornography and cyber bullying -- sometimes filtering from social media onto campus -- it’s why Spanish Fort Middle School Principal Leslie Wheeler along with School Resource Officer Heath Harville spearheaded the “Crack the Code” program nearly 10 years ago.

“We are trying to be proactive -- we want to be a partnership with our parents -- we want to educate them -- so they can navigate those spaces and have those conversations with their children because that is where it all begins,” said Wheeler.

Spanish Fort’s Kristi Bush -- with KNB Communications -- is a social media safety expert. From Snapchat to Tik Tok she travels the country educating parents and teachers on the best ways to stay on top of it all. Due to the pandemic -- this is the first time they’ve held the Crack the Code program in four years -- and Bush explains a lot has changed since then.

“I’m seeing elementary kids doing things they should not be doing -- I’ve got elementary school kids on Tik Tok on Snapchat. I’m called to schools to council elementary students that are sending inappropriate pictures. This was not happening before 2020,” explained Bush.

The parents even got a teen’s perspective.

“When you put everything out there on social media -- then everything knows everything about your life. So I think it’s important to learn to have a balance at a young age okay -- I’m putting this out there -- this is what I want people to see,” said Ryann Turner, Spanish Fort High School Senior.

Bush’s top five tips to protect your kids online:

1.) Random device checks. (Middle School: 2 times a week, High School: 1 time a week or depending on teen behavior).

2.) Open Conversation.

3.) Phone does not live in the bedroom at night.

4.) Wait until at least 8th grade before allowing child to have phone.

5.) No Tik Tok or Snap... or anything that disappears.

“Please communicate with your child -- please check your child’s device -- those two things -- any app monitoring device ever that you could use... Your own eyes are going to catch way more than any app monitoring device that you could pay for. Talk to your kids -- communicate -- don’t confront -- talk and look,” said Bush.

Other Quick Tips discussed:

-- Know how to use and navigate every app your child has.

-- Be familiar with the meaning of certain emojis.

-- Discussing “AI” with your child.

-- If you want to know about your child... look at their social media -- it will talk to you.

When is the best time to give a child a cell phone:

1.) Delay, Delay, Delay.

2.) Wait until 8th grade.

3.) Assess maturity level.

4.) When you (parent) are ready to learn about social media & devices.

5.) When you are ready for your relationship with your child to look different.

Other Stats discussed:

Average age of a child’s first time viewing pornography is 11.

Some are as young as 7.

30 Days out of the year spent playing games on our phone.

11 years is the amount of time a person will look at their phone over their lifetime.

47 times a day is he avg number a person checks their phone.

97% of teens go online everyday.

46% of friends are online almost constantly.

Average of 6 years of our life spent on social media, 1300 hours a year.

More than 70% of teens have sent nudes.

Bush gave a lot of great tips. To find out much more -- click here for her website.