By Guest Blogger Amber O’Neal

Earlier this fall, I attended a Cyber Dangers seminar at Ravenscroft and wanted to share some of the information that was presented.

Katie Koestner is a national child safety & wellness expert. (If the name rings a bell, Katie was the first date rape victim to speak publicly about what happened to her.) She travels the US talking to kids and parents about technology today and how it affects our kids. Most importantly: Katie describes the footprint kids leave with anything they put on the internet (or we as parents put on any social media web site). This information can forever be traced, tracked and retrieved, and may be used against them. Kids do not realize that the cell phone pictures or videos that are put on the internet will forever be property of the internet!

The biggest thing I learned was just how many colleges and employers are using the internet as a tool to research you (the applicant) to see if you are a potential candidate for their school or business. Ms. Koestner said one college football coach is now refusing any player who has ever had a social media web page, saying they are not a good candidate to represent his school. This coach is part of a large University, and is just one example of things to come.

The bottom line: anything said on a social media web page, and any picture or video of you or your children on the web is forever on the internet. It is traceable, retrievable and trackable, FOREVER!

For example (and this is a true story): There was a large party being attended by a couple hundred teenagers. Two young girls making out in a corner were joined by a male teenager. Another male teenager walked by and, seeing the action, pulls his cell phone out and hits record. The “cameraman” then shared the cell phone video with his friends, who continued to forward & forward to their friends.

The video eventually made it to the computer screen of a child whose father was an assistant D.A. The father caught a glimpse of the video and investigated. As it turns out, the two young girls were ages 13 & 14, the male engaged in action with the two young girls was 19, and the young man filming on his cell phone was age 18. What happened? The 18 year old male who thought he would just record something his friends would like to see was charged with child pornography distribution. The 19 year old frolicking with the two underage girls was charged with sexual assault of 2 minors, and was forever labeled “sex offender”.

This story goes to show how quickly cell phones, video and internet can ruin the lives of numerous kids simply because they made poor choices and misused today’s technology.

At the end of the seminar there was a short question/answer segment for Ms. Koestner. One parent asked, “how do you ask your children what they are texting on their phones?” (This is where I was wishing for a seatbelt as I almost came out of my chair yelling “you are the parent, it is your right, the cell phone is in your name and you pay the bill, it is your responsibility to know what your children are sending over text!” Thankfully I didn’t have to because Ms. Koestner calmly said, “it is your right to know & ask, you are the parent.”)

Ms. Koestner could have spoken for 8 hours on this and related topics, but she only had 90 minutes. I found it all to be very valuable information that every parent has a right to know (and should learn themselves if you have children of any age). I don’t mean to preach; only to share…At some point all of our kids will play a game on the home computer, have a cell phone, and eventually will have their own e-mail if they don’t already. If you do not have a filter on your home computer, the average age a child is now exposed to porn is 3, yes THREE years old! Be aware of your kids’ activities, and set the ground rules early.

Since publicly sharing the story of her assault at age 18, Katie Koestner has worked extensively to educate campus members, to raise the public’s awareness of sexual assault, and to promote anti-violence initiatives. Ms. Koestner founded Campus Outreach Services over a decade ago specifically to provide support and education to parents and schools, and she and her staff consult on a number of pertinent topics. Her website is full of valuable resources for parents

Amber O’Neal is the mother of one (almost) teenage son, and is an event manager for her husband’s restaurant, Winston’s Grille in Raleigh.