Neighborhood safety coalition keeps town hall |  News, Sports, Jobs

Neighborhood safety coalition keeps town hall | News, Sports, Jobs

In a world where nearly every teen, preteen, and even younger kids have their own smartphones, tablets, and other electronic devices, what can parents do to keep their kids safe? Two local law enforcement officers spoke to a few dozen community members about how to monitor their children’s online activities at a town hall meeting hosted Thursday night by the Fort Dodge – Webster County Safe Communities Coalition at the First Presbyterian Church.

“There is a lot of danger on these devices”, said Randy Kuhlman, CEO of the Fort Dodge Community Foundation and United Way.

Detective Alex Winninger, of the Webster County Sheriff’s Office, and Detective Joelyn Johnson, of the Fort Dodge Police Department, spoke about the common violations they see in electronic communications. Both detectives work in the county’s cybercrime department.

“We have the internet at our fingertips almost every day – I see children as young as 5 years of age using cell phones very fluently,” said Johnson. “So it’s very important that they understand the respect and responsibility that comes with using that tool.”

It’s also important for parents to understand the responsibility that comes with monitoring their child’s devices, she added.

“A lot of times, parents won’t even understand that their child is engaging in some pretty risky behavior on the Internet,” said Johnson.

Two of the most common things officers see teens participating in are sexting and cyberbullying.

Johnson said it’s not uncommon for a teen to send risky photos to their significant other, for example.

What teens don’t understand is that sending obscene material to a minor is a crime, even if the sender is also a minor. So even if a teen took an inappropriate photo of himself and sent it to another person, that’s still the distribution of child pornography, which is a federal crime, Johnson explained.

“Kids don’t see how this will affect their lives in the long run,” she said.

The officers also discussed cyberbullying and how it too can lead to criminal charges, including harassment.

“The big takeaways we want you to know, your kids’ passcodes – you pay for these phones,” said winner. “Random check their phones, and if they don’t like it, just take the phone away.”

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