Dangers of Technology: Watch what your kids do online

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by Gene Kang

WHAS11.com

Posted on November 18, 2009 at 6:01 PM

Updated Saturday, Nov 21 at 11:11 AM

Most parents don’t know all the dangers of technology.

With high tech ways of communicating, texting is the way most kids converse and dialogue is often encrypted so that parents have no idea what their kids are talking about.

WHAS11’s Gene Kang investigated and is educating parents on text language and what some of it mean may surprise you.

It started at a school assembly, a bold lesson on internet safety telling students not to give out personal information online.

The Child Connection's Lisa Kimball is teaching kids at Notre Dame Academy why sexual predators are so dangerous online.

LMPD Detective Thomas Dreher agrees, he said, “one in 25 youth receive a solicitation online for sexual contact which is followed up with offline contact."

WHAS11 asked four kids why some students are so secretive and don't tell parents about their MySpace and Facebook accounts.

Hailey admitted an older man wanted to meet up with her on MySpace, she said, "I’ve had like one. He was just wondering where I lived and I told him I wasn't going to tell him. He just signed off. I was just like okay."

Hailey never told her parents, fearing she'd be grounded.  So, we did it for her.

"We had a discussion. I was shocked to hear someone had approached her, someone had contacted her through MySpace," said Hailey’s mother Renee McMacking.

But Hailey said, “It was kind of hard to tell her I had one and tell her I got that email after you guys called her."

No harm was done to Hailey and she wasn't grounded.

But LMPD's Crimes Against Children Unit says online sexual predators are a growing problem and are severely under-reported.

"9 out of 10 cases that occur online when kids are victimized, 9 out of 10 are never reported," said Det. Dan Jackman. “For every one person you see us lock up, they've victimized on average 150 kids."

In the summer, they just locked up 14 predators through their internet sting, Operation Bulldog.

If you do the math, Detective Jackman estimates if you multiply that number by 150 children, roughly 2100 other kids could've been victimized and never said a thing.

In reality, experts say 80,000 child sexual abuse cases are reported every year in the U.S. with un-reported cases far greater.

And Hailey’s mom fesses up, she's like many parents who become too busy to monitor their kids online 24/7.

"I trusted her and I think maybe I got a little lazy, not going back and checking histories on computers and things and maybe I got a little sloppy."

And this day and age, parents have a lot of ground to cover with dozens of social networking sites.
We showed LMPD Detective Thomas Dreher a mind-boggling 50 page list of message abbreviations some 2500 messages for the internet and texting.

"I equate these as the new Morse code for the teens," said Det. Dreher.

Some include the well known:

  •  "lol" or "laugh out loud"
  • "rotfl" --- "rolling on the floor laughing"

Others, intentionally secretive:

  • "p911" for "parent alert"
  • "pos" means "parents over shoulder"
  • "paw" --- parents are watching

And yet others sexually explicit or suggestive messages like:

  • the number "8" for "oral sex"
  • "iwsn"   or "I want sex now"
  • "lmirl" --- "let's meet in real life"    

"A lot of times these teens believe they're chatting with other teens but if they're not careful and don't take proper precautions they could be conversing with a 40-year-old male," said Det. Dreher.

We showed the message list to Paige Brands and her teenage daughter  Aubrey.

Paige monitors everything these days.

"The whole shebang. It's like texts can actually be downloaded onto a computer. Everything is out there forever and permanent. And when you're dealing with a 14-year-old child, they don't get it," said mother Paige Brands.

Paige routinely looks at Aubrey’s Facebook page and is friends with her on the social networking site.

She says playing watchdog is time consuming but worth her kid's safety.

The mom and daughter team can even joke about their close relationship.            

"Oh no, it's Aubrey's mom. It's the cyber stalker, don't worry about it. I'm just stalking my daughter. (laughs)  Just checking on things!" said Paige.

A lesson learned for Renee and her daughter Hailey.

Renee said, "Hailey has a Facebook page. I have all her information. I can get on it anytime. She has contacts within my family."

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