Our schools offer a STEM-focused education that successfully prepares students for tomorrow. We offer a safe and positive environment for them to learn and grow. Technology is a big part of our culture-from computer labs to building robots—and everything in-between. Technology however wonderful, can be a double-edged sword. This blogpost is about an issue we have never faced in any of our schools, but we want you, our parents, to be aware of a growing national trend.
Sexting or taking explicit photos of oneself then sending them out to others can be viewed as sex trafficking or as a child predatory act. In other words, what your child may view as harmless fun could turn out to be a criminal offense at the very least and a something that turns up 15 years later on a routine background check for a job. Last week, Canon City High School in Colorado cancelled its football game this past Saturday night because members of the team were involved in a sexting incident. A parent meeting was called because administrators discovered from an anonymous tip that students were taking and sharing nude photos of themselves and other students. They were able to do this under the radar by using hidden photo vault apps which can be used as hiding places disguised as innocent apps such as calculators.
These photo vault apps can be found in both the Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store. A search uncovered dozens upon dozens of “ghost” apps.
As the Colorado administrators followed the tip, it led to one interview, then another, then another. As they started to confiscate cell phones based on the information they were gathering, they were amazed and eventually appalled at how many photos students were sharing. It was literally hundreds and hundreds! At that point, the principal made the decision to turn over the matter to the local police department. It became a much bigger issue than they ever imagined. Unfortunately, the one theme that ran through all of the student interviews as to why–was, “Everyone is doing it.”
The scary part is, even if students were ok with trading photos, under some states, they could face child pornography charges and even be labeled a sex offender at only 14 years old! These charges are life-long punishments for a miscalculation of judgement based on adolescent immaturity and no knowledge of how the world works. For instance, once labeled a sex offender, one has to register and make themselves known in every community they wish to live for at least 10 years or in some states, until the end of their natural life. That means all neighbors, community organizations, churches and other families would know their status. They could never be a teacher, a pediatrician or even a camp counselor because they could never be around other children.
These vault apps were originally designed to be places adults could store passwords, bank information, PIN numbers etc. so they would not have to remember the many security codes we need to access our money, buy groceries or enter our homes. According to MediaSmarts a not-for-profit Canadian company that has digital literacy resources for parents, children are native to technology. They grew up with the computer. Therefore, they will always be one step ahead of adults who had to learn how adjust to the computer age.
So what can parents do??
Here are some tips about online safety you should share with your children:
- It is very important to talk to them and find out WHY. It is essential that you separate cyber-bullying from exploration.
- It is equally important to keep the lines of communication open so that your children will not be afraid to come to you in the future.
- Be upfront with them about YOU checking their cell phones, laptops or any other devices in the name of safety.
- Keep an ongoing open dialogue with your children and make clear what your expectations of them are regarding participating online.
- Talk about the idea of consent and what it means when things are shared online without
Bottom line, as a parent or guardian be very REAL about the consequences once inappropriate material is released of them or with their name attached. All of the schools in the Concept Network work very hard at providing a safe, nurturing environment in order for our children to thrive. Our students are in spaces where it’s “cool” to be smart and curious about the world. Our students and schools accomplish academic goals and win awards! We are very proud of our school families! However, there is a big world out there and not all of it is good for our students’ positive growth.
This is a national problem, not just one in Colorado. We care about our families and our students. We just wanted YOU to know how to best to protect your child. Please check out the online resources below for more information.
- “Schools, Cops Take Notice as Sexting Becomes the New Norm” – http://www.thetakeaway.org/