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Have kids? You MUST know about cybersafety!

Teen angel panel

On May 27 Sarah and I attended the Wired Kids Summit in Washington DC. This was not the first meeting on Cybersafety that I attended, and with Sarah’s “run-in” with cyber bullying I knew she too would want to see what this was all about. The meeting was primarily a summit of Parry Aftab’s Teen angels to gather and talk to cyber companies and share their experiences i.e. facebook, Google, MySpace, Xbox, MTV, Disney, Nickelodeon etc.

Teen angels are a group of thirteen to eighteen year old volunteers that have been specially trained in all aspects of online safety, privacy and security. After completion of the required training, the Teen angels run unique programs in schools to spread the word about responsible and safe surfing to other teens and younger kids, parents, and teachers.

Parry and Teen Angel demonstrating the “Stop, Block and Tell”

Teen angels was founded in 1999 by leading cyberlawyer Parry Aftab, Executive Director of – the world’s largest online safety and help organization and 501(c)(3) corporation. Parry personally trains most of the Teen angels!

Parry Aftab is an Internet privacy and security lawyer. She also writes books and articles and was one of the first experts to focus on Internet safety and kids online. The Teen angels were born as a result of a TV special Parry did in April 1999with ABC News, in New Jersey. The special was about teen girl safety and Parry was asked to be the Internet safety guru for the special. Part of the special involved Parry speaking to teenage girls at a school in New Jersey. When the computer connection predictably broke down, the girls just lined up at microphones and fired off questions and that was the birth of wiredsafety.*

At the summit there were several panel discussions with the teens, the companies, and with the audience. I had invited several mom bloggers to attend and other moms who are active in their schools so that they could learn from this and hopefully take back some ideas for starting a curriculum on the importance of internet safety and cyberbullying.

Parry and Cyber Company Panel

At my last meeting I was blown away by the corporations that were showing support for this important venue. Two companies stood out big time to me and they were Build a Bear which is a store for younger children and teens who has devoted an entire section of their website to cybersafety and MTV who began a thin line campaign aimed at stopping the spread of abuse in the form of sexting, cyberbullying and digital dating abuse.

psa courtesy of “A Thin Line”

I’m still not sure what facebook is doing to promote internet safety as well as gaming companies such as XBox. Facebook does have a place to report bullying but after my daughters experience I’m still a bit skeptical. A friend of mine who has 3 boys who came with me raised the question as to why should there be “chat” buttons on games such as scrabble where total strangers can hop on and start chatting with your child or you. She told me she finds this entirely too creepy and I have to agree.

But the bottom line is parents need to be aware of what your kids are doing, which in this day and age where 50% of the population is of divorced families and have two working parents is very hard to enforce. We really need to get back to basics of really speaking to our kids and keeping the lines of communications open so that “if” they encounter any type of “bullying” or “weirdness” on the computer they can follow along what they Teen/Twee angels preach which is “stop, block, and tell a parent.”

Keeping our kids safe has gone from our backyards into cyberspace and we really need to be wise.

Some tips from Parry*:
Keeping your kids safe on social media
Protect your privacy on facebook
What you need to know about youtube

*Information of teen angels and Perry Aftab from website and

Bullying has gone “out of this world!”

Many of you know who follow me know that I have two beautiful daughters one who has special needs and one who has taken her beauty and used it to help those less fortunate than herself, by using this as a platform with various titles she has held. But beauty has come at a cost to her.

When she was a senior in high school a boy who she was very good friends with for many years, who she defended when other kids “bullied “him on the bus and elsewhere, got mad at her and decided to make a hurtful fake facebook page which he called “antiprincess” and had her picture with an ex thru it as it’s icon. This boy originally created a fake facebook with a different name and no photo and friended his circle of friends included my daughter who thought this was just “a student from school” and then when he had a lot of friends he switched the name and the photo. It was with a blood curdling scream one afternoon that Rebeka saw this was done.

I thank god, she came to us first. We had a pretty good idea of who was behind this because the boy had just gotten in a huge fight with Rebeka right before this, and figured this was his “retaliation.” Geoffrey called the boy’s parents but unfortunately his parents defended him and basically told us it was untrue, but they did say “I guess you are calling because you heard boos when they crowned Rebeka as Homecoming Queen.” Um, no, first not true we were there, there was no booing; and what are we 3 years old? We were talking about something more serious!

In the mean time, other students came forward after realizing what he did by switching the name and photo and told us. When we were informed by other students who indeed the creator was and knew his parents wouldn’t take responsibility we went to talk to the principal who did little more than talk to him with a “slap on the wrist” and say “bad boy.” They told us since facebook is an “out of school activity” they could not do too much to get involved. But I will say that “miraculously” after that the page “disappeared.” Although the pain and embarrassment of this was awful for my daughter.

We also attempted to contact facebook. This was 4 years ago when cyberbullying was a “new” thing and facebook did not have anything in place for reports like this.

Mean girls, bullying has always been around but with the cyber world this has gone on into a new dimension that no one could even have believed possible. It is now possible to hurt a child so bad that people all over the internet around the world will know, and children are dying over this!

On Tuesday October 12th I had the privilege of being invited to the Wired Safety Stopcyberbullying Coalition Roundtable at the US Senate by Mary from WiredMoms. When Mary contacted me about this coalition I was all ears since it was something that touched my family’s life.

I went and listened to two families stories that were not as lucky as mine. Debbie Johnston shared the story of her son Jeffery who fell prey to two years of cyberbulling and torment and at the age of 15 he took his own life. His mother through her hard work had the state of Florida adopt “The Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up for All Students Act,” which requires schools in the state to adopt policies to discourage bullying in person and online.

And Cynthia Logan spoke about her ongoing fight to teach schools how to handle sexting-related harassment among students. Her 18-year old adorable daughter Jessie tried desperately to teach others the risks of sexting after her private nude image she sent to her than 19-year old boyfriend was broadcast to more than 1000 people. After no one would help her, she too took her own life.

I sat and of course tried very hard to keep all my tears in check but just kept thinking thank God Rebeka is still here with us today! Thank God, this didn’t take her life too! So now I’m on a mission to help WiredMoms and WiredSafety spread awareness to as many parents as I can, because every child deserves to be safe!

I know there are many questions out there and many of you are probably thinking first what the heck is “sexting?” The definition of sexting is when a sexual picture is transported thru media. I know a lot of you are shaking your heads but this is a big problem with teens and tweens today, a lot brought on by advertising, media, TV, but the fact of the matter is we need to talk to our kids and let them know this is NOT to ever be done! NEVER!! First of all it is now a federal offense, and if convicted which many children now in fact are it is a federal offense, and you will be listed on the “Sex Offenders List.” Yes, that is the same list as pedophiles who we are trying to keep away from our kids! And if your child has forwarded a photo they received on to others your child can now be convicted as an accomplice of “child pornography” and there you go, if convicted, which again they are doing now, your child will also end up on the same Sex Offenders List. So number one talk to your kids!

I was astounded to learn that kids as young as 2nd grade have cell phones. Come on what is that about? Who at 7 needs a cell phone? But even scarier is that children this young today are ALL on the internet. 97% of teens today are on facebook, and a poll of the same age teens 85% of them say they have been cyberbullied to some extent. 1 in 10 kids will be like Rebeka and talk to their parents that means 9 in 10 don’t! And there are an astounding 160,000 kids a day who don’t go to school because of their cyberbulling experience.

I learned that 85% of kids share their passwords with their friends. Well that’s all it takes for someone to start cyberbulling. Send out messages to all of your friends from ”you” but it’s not really you… this is what happened to Jeff Johnson. It’s called “locking the door folks!” You lock the door to your house to keep it safe don’t you? Passwords are your lock to your computers!

The roundtable was unbelievable with representatives from just about everyone from MTV to Google to Disney. Thirty different companies came together and spoke about the problem of keeping our kids safe and how as an industry they can implement change and rules but the fact of the matter is it needs to also be monitored at home. Know who your kids are “chatting” with. Talk to them about bullying what they should do if they don’t feel safe… “Stop, block, and tell” is what Parry Aftab says. Parry is the heart behind this mission and Executive Director of WiredSafety. If your child feels threatened they should stop chatting, block the person and tell their parent.

The Department of Education was also present to figure out how to add this to curriculum which I am happy to say some states are already doing. New York City’s Mayor’s office just created a wonderful 3 part Video series made by teens which will be shown to all middle school children in New York City schools premiering soon.

There are so many things that can happen in our children’s lives, I beg you please take 5 minutes today to sit down with your tweens and teens and talk to them about this important cause, it might just save their life!