Tuesday, May 24 , 2016, 2:16 pm | Partly Cloudy 66º

Bill Cirone: Cyber Danger — What Parents Need to Know

By Bill Cirone |

Technology and social media comprise the one area where most parents are less savvy and skilled than their children. Most of the time, that doesn’t matter. The Internet can be a wonderful source of information, resources and roads to new worlds of wonder.

It can also be a very dangerous place.

District Attorney Joyce Dudley recently had some of her top staff members make presentations to school district superintendents from throughout Santa Barbara County, to help bring them up to speed about the newest dangers to young people and the ways we can better protect our children.

The answer, as always, is education — letting parents and young people understand the scope of the issue and how to deal with it.

Take cyber bullying as one example. Children, especially adolescents, can be horribly cruel to each other because their feelings of empathy are not yet fully developed. The capacity to inflict real harm has always been present, but with the proliferation of social media that cruelty can now become constant. It can arrive via text message, email or Internet postings, and it can bombard a young person day and night. Tragically, we are hearing more stories of young people driven to suicide because they could no longer stand the shame, the embarrassment or the pain of the constant harassment.

Adding to the problem, cyberspace provides anonymity that can embolden teens to be cruel. The hateful messages can escalate. Fortunately, in Santa Barbara County, law enforcement is pursuing vigorous action against these types of crimes. All young people and parents should be made aware of that.

Every time anyone engages with a digital system, that action can be traced. Law enforcement has the tools to track these actions and is committed to doing so in our county. The hope is that the mere knowledge of this fact could deter some young people from taking part.

“Sexting” is another perilous action for teens, who tend to think the first person they love is the one they will be with forever. For example, a young teen girl might decide or be persuaded to send sexual images through her cell phone to a boyfriend who she assumes will be her husband some day. When the pair break up, the boy might still have that image, and if the breakup was contentious, he could post the photo or otherwise share it.

This trouble is double-edged. The young woman, feeling humiliated and shamed, could become depressed or even suicidal. The young man, who had possession of and possibly distributed child pornography, can be charged with a felony and required to register as a sex offender in California. He certainly will not be going to the college he wanted.

Young people simply don’t know the dangers of what they consider normal behavior. Anyone familiar with the story of former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner knows that this behavior is not even reserved for young people. But teens, in particular, can do stupid things that have a major impact on the rest of their lives.

A third area of concern is online grooming by predators. These deviants can assume the persona of a young man or woman and stalk a teen online, pretending to be a friend or love interest. Pictures posted online include geo-data, which contains the longitude and latitude of the spot where the photo was taken. It’s not hard for a predator to find his prey in person.

It is possible to set protections on Facebook so that this information cannot be accessed. It’s also a good idea for families to have computers in a communal room. Most important of all, for all these issues, parents should have open, honest conversations with their teens about what goes on online and what the very real consequences can be.

Parents need to teach their children to be responsible and aware of the consequences of what they do, in the cyber world and everywhere.

The solution isn’t to shelter teens from technology — that would be impossible. The solution is to help them learn how to use technology responsibly.

— Bill Cirone is Santa Barbara County’s superintendent of schools. The opinions expressed are his own.

Reader Comments

Noozhawk's intent is not to limit the discussion of our stories but to elevate it. Comments should be relevant and must be free of profanity and abusive language and attacks.

By posting on Noozhawk, you:

» Agree to be respectful. Noozhawk encourages intelligent and impassioned discussion and debate, but now has a zero-tolerance policy for those who cannot express their opinions in a civil manner.

» Agree not to use Noozhawk’s forums for personal attacks. This includes any sort of personal attack — including, but not limited to, the people in our stories, the journalists who create these stories, fellow readers who comment on our stories, or anyone else in our community.

» Agree not to post on Noozhawk any comments that can be construed as libelous, defamatory, obscene, profane, vulgar, harmful, threatening, tortious, harassing, abusive, hateful, sexist, racially or ethnically objectionable, or that are invasive of another’s privacy.

» Agree not to post in a manner than emulates, purports or pretends to be someone else. Under no circumstances are readers posting to Noozhawk to knowingly use the name or identity of another person, whether that is another reader on this site, a public figure, celebrity, elected official or fictitious character. This also means readers will not knowingly give out any personal information of other members of these forums.

» Agree not to solicit others. You agree you will not use Noozhawk’s forums to solicit and/or advertise for personal blogs and websites, without Noozhawk’s express written approval.

Noozhawk’s management and editors, in our sole discretion, retain the right to remove individual posts or to revoke the access privileges of anyone who we believe has violated any of these terms or any other term of this agreement; however, we are under no obligation to do so.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.


Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.