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That public service announcement in the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s was marketed as something of a nationwide curfew for Generation X, one of the least parented, least nurtured generations in the history of the world. It was a word of caution to parents to be vigilant, to take control and set boundaries.
Young people were finding all new ways of rebellion, and the new-found freedom experienced from far more liberally minded adults gifted independence in ways that the generation prior hadn’t experienced.
But, ask that question again today – it’s 10 p.m. – could mean your children are tucked away in their rooms, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t at risk.
Under that cool blue light of a glowing screen, young people – even as young as ages 10 or 11 – are imbuing their ideal selves, seeking sexual exploration and finding truth in a world of fallacy, all from the palm of their hand.
Tuesday, security experts hosted a seminar at Neumann University to discuss the good, the bad, the ugly and the absolutely horrific in the modern age of computer networking. Chief among those concerns were when those innocent moments of exploration by young people are turned into damaging exploitation.
Law officials, crime fighters, educators and technology experts discussed topics spanning the exponential growth of influence in the internet age, and the ways in which people can exercise caution in their own lives. But, how does one stop an epidemic in the land of little restriction when young people place themselves in a perpetual spiral of self-harm.
Edmund Pisani, from the District Attorney’s Children’s Task Force, said that most young victims of online sexual “are doing it to themselves.”
“And the problem, the kids behind them are making the same mistakes,” Pisani said.
Children in fifth and sixth grade are sending sexually explicit messages through Kik, Messenger, Snapchat, Instagram and many other forms of social media. Some even divert to games like Words With Friends or Clash of Clans, which have their own proprietary messaging service, while others take more thorough safety measures by hiding photos and videos in vault applications, which conceal themselves like innocuous calculator apps that open when the proper digit combination is entered.
Sexting cases have been widely publicized in the Daily Times, the slideshows Tuesday showed half a dozen covers just in the last few years where an individual, teacher, or stranger used the internet to communicate explicit messages with a minor. However, many of those cases go undocumented, or not prosecuted.
Paul Sanfrancesco, the director of technology at Owen J. Roberts High School, said that often children feel as though they will be punished if they come forward to an adult regarding risqué online behavior.
“What’s typically the first reaction?” Sanfrancesco asked. “You take the phone away.”
And therein lies the error, he said, that parents have fallen behind in understanding what their children are doing online, who they’re talking to, what apps they use, and at the very least what conduct is appropriate for their age.
And with little education of what Sanfrancesco referred to as “stranger danger” within online message boards, he said it starts with parents setting the ground rules. He added that parents should do better to set a positive example through the use of social media as a responsible education tool. At home, he said he sets ground rules for the wifi, that any of his children’s friends who request the password must abide.
“As adults we need to set the boundaries,” Sanfrancesco said. “It’s a conversation that needs to happen at a younger and younger age.”