COTA: Online Smartz helpful in keeping kids cyber safe

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share
Jim Cota

Indianapolis Police Detective Darin Odier immediately got the attention of the seventh and eighth graders: “I got these from Facebook,” he said, projecting pictures on the big screen of some of the kids seated right in front of him.

Next in this revealing show-and-tell in my local school gym, he showed the profile of a young girl named Hannah. In it, she mentioned that she recently moved to town, was new at the school and was reaching out to students to make friends. Very sweet. She sent out a few friend requests and, within a week, some of them were answered. Hannah had made some new friends—which would be a nice story if Hannah weren’t actually Detective Odier using a fake identity.

“I have more than 1,000 photos of the students here,” he continued, “because five of you became friends with a Facebook account I created. Once I had those five, the rest was easy.”

The problem wasn’t the pictures themselves. At least, not in this case. The problem was what the pictures represented: access and information.

Young or old, if your privacy settings aren’t carefully controlled, you’re not only potentially exposing your own information, you could be exposing your friends’ as well. Detective Odier explained it like this: “By having the tags on the photos, I can put names with faces. I also know birthdays, hobbies, interests and—let’s not forget—where you go to school.”

We teach our kids to be wary of strangers in the physical world, but we also need to teach them to be wary online. Kids need to be taught to be more discerning about who might actually be a stranger, only friending people online who are actually flesh-and-blood friends.

Tempted to eliminate online access entirely? That’s not really an option, Odier said.

“Most of us parents are digital immigrants,” he explained. “We grew up without the Internet and are having to learn as we go. Our kids, however, are digital natives. They’ve never known anything else, and it will always be a part of their lives.” Our best hope is to better prepare them for what they’ll find out there.

One useful tool I’d recommend is NetSmartz Workshop (www.netsmartz.org), created by the Center for Missing and Exploited Children. An interactive, educational program designed for children ages 5-17, NetSmartz Workshop provides age-appropriate resources to help teach children how to be safer on- and offline. There are also extensive resources for parents and guardians, educators and law enforcement. And to make it more likely to be used, NetSmartz aims to entertain while it educates.

Some NetSmartz advice:

• Make sure all home computers are kept and used in a high-traffic area so you can pay better attention to what your kids are doing online.

• Remember that computers aren’t limited to desktops and laptops. Smartphones and devices such as iPads, iPods, Kindles and game consoles often have direct access to the Internet.

• Consider installing software that allows you to block various types of traffic.

• Greatly limit access to chat rooms and be sure screen names that are used don’t provide clues to identity, gender or location.

• Review the privacy settings on social media sites to limit the information shared beyond the immediate circle of friends. Delete over-identifying and inappropriate information.

• Be aware that cyber-bullying is on the rise, especially among girls. Help your kids understand what appropriate behavior looks like and dissuade them from responding to rude e-mails, comments or messages.

• Remind kids that anything they send from their phones can be easily copied and/or forwarded.

• They should never meet face-to-face with anyone they first met online without your permission and/or attendance.

• Finally, talk with your kids. As a parent, it’s our job to do whatever we can to keep them safe. Sometimes, the most important thing is opening up a dialogue so we’ll know what’s going on, even when they don’t want to tell us.

If you want them to hear it from someone besides you, Detective Odier said he’d be happy to talk with anyone who wants him to. If you’d like to contact him about speaking at your school, let me know and I’ll put you in touch.•


Cota is president and co-founder of Rare Bird Inc., a marketing communications firm specializing in Internet application development. His column appears monthly. He can be reached at jim@rarebirdinc.com.


Post a comment to this story

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ on Facebook:
Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ's Tweets on these topics:
Subscribe to IBJ
  1. Gay marriage is coming, whether or not these bigots and zealots like it or not. We must work to ensure future generations remember the likes of Greg Zoeller like they do the racists of our past...in shame.

  2. Perhaps a diagram of all the network connections of all politicians to their supporters and those who are elite/wealthy and how they have voted on bills that may have benefited their supporters. The truth may hurt, but there are no non-disclosures in government.

  3. I'm sure these lawyers were having problems coming up with any non-religious reason to ban same-sex marriage. I've asked proponents of this ban the question many times and the only answers I have received were religious reasons. Quite often the reason had to do with marriage to a pet or marriage between a group even though those have nothing at all to do with this. I'm looking forward to less discrimination in our state soon!

  4. They never let go of the "make babies" argument. It fails instantaneously because a considerable percentage of heterosexual marriages don't produce any children either. Although if someone wants to pass a law that any couple, heterosexual or homosexual, cannot be legally married (and therefore not utilize all legal, financial, and tax benefits that come with it) until they have produced a biological child, that would be fun to see as a spectator. "All this is a reflection of biology," Fisher answered. "Men and women make babies, same-sex couples do not... we have to have a mechanism to regulate that, and marriage is that mechanism." The civil contract called marriage does NOTHING to regulate babymaking, whether purposefully or accidental. These conservatives really need to understand that sex education and access to birth control do far more to regulate babymaking in this country. Moreover, last I checked, same-sex couples can make babies in a variety of ways, and none of them are by accident. Same-sex couples often foster and adopt the children produced by the many accidental pregnancies from mixed-sex couples who have failed at self-regulating their babymaking capabilities.

  5. Every parent I know with kids from 6 -12 has 98.3 on its car radio all the time!! Even when my daughter isn't in the car I sometimes forget to change stations. Not everybody wants to pay for satellite radio. This will be a huge disappointment to my 9 year old. And to me - there's so many songs on the radio that I don't want her listening to.