A Michigan teen became the victim of an online predator five-years ago when at the age of 13 she sent a nude photograph of herself to him. The now 18-year old teen has attempted suicide twice as she continued to deal with the impact of her decision to press the send button.
After sending the first photo, the predator began sending text messages and email demanding more photos, warning her that he would post her photos to the Internet unless she complied. According to the official complaint the teen was terrified with the threat and “took nude photos of herself every other day and forwarded them.” The blackmail continued for about 18-months.
The teen emailed the predator last March in an attempt to stop the threats where she wrote, “I don’t understand why you can’t leave me alone. I’m already in therapy, I’ve gone to psych hospital twice now for trying to commit suicide. Are you trying to kill me?” In one email the online predator admitted that he knew the teen had been a minor when the demands for nude photos began.
The teen contacted authorities when she found 30 photos of herself on an Internet pornography site. When she asked the predator to remove the images, he furthered blackmailed her, saying he would only remove the photos if she had sex with him. After the teen did not respond, he sent an email stating, “This is literally your last chance to answer me. You have 24-hours. I know where you are, I know where your family is, all be exposed unless you answer.
The FBI found the predator and arrested Bruce William Powell, 26, at his home in Tallahassee, Florida. He has been charged with cyberstalking and child pornography. A federal search warrant uncovered 3332 emails with pictures of videos of the teen.
PARENTS: This case alone should prompt us all to become more vigilant with monitoring our child’s online activities. It’s time to get in your child’s business as their lives may depend upon it.
Of course you can always purchase online tracking software, however I’m a fan of good old-fashioned and practical tips to keeping your child safe online and encouraging them to use social media responsibly.
Five tips to keep your child safe-online and use social media responsibly:
1. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate. Never underestimate the power of continuous open conversations. I ask my daughter about her day, what’s going on in her world, and usually will slip in a conversation about social media or Internet usage. It’s amazing how she opens up when I am interested in what’s important to her, and listen without interruption. Have a conversation about what’s acceptable to post, share, download, etc. Take time to set expectations and consequences, leaving little room for “misinterpretation.”
2. Discuss the definition of “friend.” An “online” friend is someone you know in real life. My rule of thumb for my daughter is that if I have not met the friend’s parents, if they have not visited our home, do you know them offline, in the real world? We also have a rule where we discuss who she is adding to any friend list. If you don’t recognize a name, ask your child how they know the person and determine if they should remain on the list as a friend. Bottom-line: A friend is not a “friend of a friend” or someone you “kind of” know.
3. Conduct an “App-Check” If you find a texting app on your child’s phone, simply ask them why they need a texting service other than the one provided by the phone carrier. A rule of thumb is to review all apps and ask your child why they need them, how they use them, and have them show you. You may also want to set rules and set expectations around downloading apps. In our home, my daughter must ask before downloading “anything.” Last year she asked me if she could download snap-chat, and although I was 1000% against it, I gave her opportunity to tell me why she needed it. My answer was no, however during a random app check, I found that she downloaded it anyway. As we had discussed the consequences, her phone was taken away four months and we have not had that problem again. The consequences may sound harsh, but we discussed the rules and set the expectations together. Accountability was the word of the day!
4. Monitor cell phone usage and text messages. Smart phones are merely “mini” computers that without the proper safe guards open your child up to the world. Unfortunately when we talk about keeping kids safe online, we often overlook cell phones and the texting function. Ask your phone carrier about the ability to set-up parental controls, which will allow you to set limits on access and disable some functions. Randomly check text messages, review photos being sent and stored, downloaded apps, and incoming and outgoing calls
5. Get in their business. Some people feel that “spying” on their child will break the trust in the relationship. Let me be very clear about my stance: I do not spy; however I am very upfront with my daughter about my monitoring her technology interactions. I would rather her be temporarily upset with me for monitoring her activity than reacting to a situation that could have been avoided. Back in the day, my mom was my mom…not my “girl” or my friend and I appreciate that! If my daughter grows up and says the same, I will count that as a success!
6. Give your child an “out,” and don’t let your ego get in the way. I would love for my daughter to want to talk to me about everything, but I also want to give her an option if she feels as if she can’t. I have deliberately placed people in my daughter’s life to call her, check in on her, show an interest and mentor her. She now has her grandparents, aunts, cousins, teachers, and my sorority sisters as an outlet if she needs to talk to someone other than me. There is power in having options! Assure your child that there is nothing they have done that is so horrible that they can’t share it with you.
Online Predators are vigilant, as parents we must be relentless when it comes to protecting our children. There are NO Excuses.
Marlin Page is a Globetrotting Speaker, Founder of Sisters Code, and thought leader on bridging the racial and gender gap in technology. As Chief Technology Mommy, Marlin exposes online safety stories and empowers parents to keep their children safe on the Internet while encouraging teens to use social media responsibly.
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Sisters Code: www.sisters-code.org