El Dorado County deputy district attorney Lisette Suder gave a new face to “strangers” at a cyber safety presentation on Feb. 6.
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The boogeyman isn’t just the obvious man in sunglasses asking children if they’d like a piece of candy anymore, she explained during her talk at Marina Village Middle School in El Dorado Hills; there are, in fact, scores of unknown people hiding on the web, trolling to find their next victims. Suder gave a parallel presentation to 75 parents that night, where she stressed that parent education coupled with parent-child communication is the best way to keep kids safe.
Suder said she’s seen an explosion of cyber crimes related to the sexual assault and child endangerment cases she prosecutes in El Dorado County.
“The Internet isn’t just TV or reading a book; it’s interactive, alive and real,” she said.
More than half the kids in the audience raised their hands when she asked if a stranger had ever texted them or approached them online. It wasn’t surprising to Suder, though it was to parents. She said it is a common practice for predators to call random numbers until they reach a child. Further, she continued, “A predator’s No. 1 goal is to get kids offline to try and meet them,” she said.
But completely shielding kids from technology isn’t realistic, nor is trying to stay ahead of the criminals, the deputy DA added. “The sophistication of the criminal mind is advancing,” warned Suder. “We could never have the time or resources to figure out all the modern ways kids can get caught up.”
Instead, monitor what children are up to, she advised. If parents don’t recognize an app on their child’s phone find out what it is. And, Suder said, arm children with specific online safety tips.
• reply to someone you don’t know
• give your name
• give your address or where you go to school
• send pictures to someone you don’t know.
Many kids this age think they’re too smart to fall for a predator’s lines, so warn them that by talking to strangers online they could also be putting their family or friends at risk, Suder added. By giving out personal information, or even by sending out a photo, which can give a GPS location (called geotagging) a home can be robbed. Giving out personal information can also lead to someone hacking into parents’ bank accounts, etc.
“Middle school aged kids are the perfect victims,” said Suder. Their bodies are changing and they often feel like no one understands them. “Kids who feel lonely will tell an adult anything if they spend enough time talking,” said Suder. She also wanted parents to know boys are just as likely to be victimized as girls.
Beyond unknown predators, kids can get themselves into trouble on their own. Sexting and Cyberbullying (also known as “Flaming”) were discussed. Parents were given an eight-page pamphlet of sexting codes kids use today. Suder offered this tip to kids: “If it’s something you wouldn’t show or say to your mom, dad or teacher, then you know it’s inappropriate and don’t push send,” she said. Later to parents, she added, “Don’t assume your kid wouldn’t do this.”
Marina Village principal Jeff Warshaw said, “Kids are living in a world that has a whole different realm of communication than we had as kids. And because of that, we want them to be safe in cyber space, just as we expect them to make good choices in other parts of their lives.”
Additional district-wide parent presentations related to topics of student safety will be held at 6:30 p.m. on March 5 at Pleasant Grove Middle School.