If you didn’t attend last month’s joint Enumlcaw-White River School District Teen Wellness Night and listened to Officer David Gomez speak about the dangers of social media, here’s the gist of it — unless you lock up and deprive your child him the modern technology fully , watch porn, get bullied and interact with scammers and predators.
And the parents can’t do anything about that.
But hope is not lost, and Gomez says the best parents can do to protect their children is to warn and coach them about these inevitable situations and lead by example.
A few ground rules like no phones or computers in the bedroom will also help.
While Gomez is a school police officer (or student resource officer) with the Meridian Police Department in Idaho, the things he’s experienced in his job are universal to teens and adults across the country. Due to his IT background, Gomez’s specialties include using social media to identify, track and arrest online predators, as well as locating runaway children and adolescents.
During his Sept. 27 speech, Gomez addressed many uncomfortable realities children face today, from online bullying and online bomb threats to naked selfies and sexual grooming.
But another, and perhaps more important, issue he addressed was that many adults are not only unaware of the dangers children face today, but actively provide them with the tools that children use to get themselves into trouble whether it be with an online troll, a predator, or even the law.
“For many parents, kids who don’t have phones are a bigger pain to the parent than the kid,” Gomez said, recounting multiple stories of how parents refused to take their kids’ phones away, even after they were caught bullying or Share nude photos.
The presentation was lengthy and can be viewed at courierherald.com or the White River School District website (scroll down to the Latest News and Upcoming Events section), but for those who don’t have two hours to spare, here it is some highlights.
PORN AND NUDE PHOTOS
Many parents want to believe their kids aren’t the type to watch porn or take nude pictures of themselves, Gomez said.
But it’s about time parents ditched that idea; Studies show that up to 90 percent of teens have viewed porn online, a rising trend fueled by the rising number of children with smartphones.
“This is something you need to talk to your kids about, especially if you’re going to give them a smartphone. My two requirements for giving a kid a smartphone: #1, they’re 13 years old or older,” Gomez said. “No. 2, understand clearly that they’re going to watch pornography on this phone…it’s going to happen.
And even if your designated child is one of the remaining 10 percent, Gomez continued — perhaps because you didn’t give him a smartphone — he’s likely still being shown explicit pictures of his classmates and friends.
Less common, but no less important and perhaps far more consequential than watching online porn, is sending nude photos.
In Gomez’s experience, up to 70% of high school teens have taken nude photos and sent them to someone else; Other studies (such as by Thorn, a non-profit organization that aims to study online child sexual exploitation) have shown that the figure could be closer to 19%, but more than a third of teenagers think that this is normal.
Gomez warned that anyone under the age of 18 who takes nude photos of themselves and sends them to others may be considered to have created and distributed child pornography or child sexual abuse material (CSAM). While some experts say that two minors who consent to sending and receiving nude photos of each other are unlikely to face criminal prosecution, sharing explicit photos of another teen or teens without consent can land them in trouble with the law. According to Thorn, about 8% of teams reshared objectionable material with other people.
Several states have made this illegal; In Washington, a minor over the age of 13 who sends explicit material to another minor over the age of 13 can be charged with a misdemeanor. This was changed from a crime in 2019.
“Once you take a picture, it’s out. You can never get it back,” Gomez said, recounting multiple stories of teens who had shared their photos around the school, been exploited to take more photos, or paid blackmailers if their photos fell into the wrong hands. “It’s like trying to crack an egg…Nude pictures are life changing, whether you’re a kid or an adult.”
Gomez added that if there is a problem with a nude photo, students and parents should contact law enforcement at any time.
fraud and predators
Gomez didn’t start out as a social media whiz, but to become one, he created a fake Facebook account (of a 13-year-old girl) to learn how his students behave online. In his opinion, it was extremely easy – all he had to do was send a friend request to students, and they blindly accepted.
Finally, he told his students that he could see what they posted on Facebook. His students then attempted to remove him from their friends list, but were unable to distinguish Gomez’s fake account from all of the other random friends they were connected to.
Scammers and predators will do the same on Facebook, Gomez told his audience.
“How many guys are going to say ‘stranger threat’ to ’15 year old hot girl’?” Gomez said, referring to a specific scam in which a fake user poses as a young girl who sends nude photos to teens in exchange for photos of sends them. “You may think your child is smarter than a predator, and they are not.”
Other scams include strangers creating a fake profile that looks like someone a teen might know from their school — a popular cheerleader or soccer player — to encourage them to submit sexually explicit material. These scammers then turn around and say that unless they receive more photos or money, they will send the photos to other friends, family members, etc.
“To let [law enforcement] know from the start,” Gomez said. “Don’t pay her.”
Facebook isn’t the only platform scammers and predators use — they can happen through any type of social media platform, from Instagram and Snapchat (where Gomez says most illegal activity takes place) to supposedly kid-friendly platforms like Roblox.
“Anything you can chat with someone is dangerous,” he said.
Gomez added that one of the best ways to stay away from online scammers and predators is to limit ties with people you know in real life.
BULLYING AND SOCIAL CONFLICT
There’s a difference between bullying and social conflict, Gomez said, and parents don’t always understand that.
“Bullying is probably the most overused term used by parents,” he said. “My definition of bullying is … one-way, repeated harassment of any kind. Plain and simple.
“If your child is involved in a Twitter fight, where [they’re] going back and forth, that’s not bullying,” Gomez continued. “You join in. This is called social conflict.”
Regarding online bullying, Gomez explained three steps a teenager can take to stop it.
“First, stop talking to… or about the person. Number two, block the bully and get on with your life,” he said. “The third step is the most important step – tell your friends to stop sending screenshots.”
You can’t be bullied if you don’t know you’re being bullied, Gomez added. “That’s the magic about it.”
And when it comes to social conflict, Gomez continued, the best thing parents can do is set clear expectations and take action when those expectations aren’t met. He told the story of a family who told their 13-year-old daughter she could have a smartphone if she never wrote anything negative about anyone else online; The student then got into a social conflict situation and the phone was taken away from him for a year.
“I had her during her senior year in high school. She never had a problem again,” Gomez said. “Parents have to do that. You have to plan this in advance.”
He added that social conflicts are not always negative and can be good learning moments.
“You should embrace it as a parent,” Gomez said. “You are your children’s coach. You’re supposed to coach them through problems.”
Gomez added parents should “stay off the field” during these social conflict situations.
Teens are resourceful, Gomez told parents, and may take creative or even extreme measures to circumvent parental control.
Simply uninstalling a parental control app is one of the easiest ways teens can bypass restrictions. Experts recommend choosing a centralized parental control app that doesn’t need to be installed on multiple devices and can warn you of attempted access or deletion.
Teens can also just factory reset their phone, which removes all filters. Experts recommend a cloud-based control app as it continues to monitor a device even after a reset.
Some parents simply try to restrict their teens’ internet access by denying the device wireless data access. However, children can “hotspot” other devices and piggyback their Internet access. Parents can ask their carrier to disable hotspot functionality on devices.
And, of course, there’s the old-fashioned “incognito mode,” a web browser feature that doesn’t store any internet activity data on a device — in other words, no search history. Most major web browsers have this feature, although the feature can be turned off.
Teens also change their time zones to bypass some parental controls. Use screen videos and capture technologies to learn usernames and passwords. Create secret social media accounts; and even buy second phones.
The next Teen Wellness Night is being organized by the Enumclaw School District and will be held at the high school on March 28, 2023.
There will be a local resource fair on the various services and non-profit organizations offered at the Plateau and an educational presentation on substance abuse.