Some of us reminisce about rotary phones and short phone cords. We laugh about how no phone conversation was private. If you were on the phone, anyone in the house within earshot could listen to you. Or, they could pick up the extension and listen to both sides of the conversation. With technological advances, these memories belong to generations past. Now, our kids can communicate anywhere they want by cell phone - and without even saying a word. they can type and use shorthand better than most trained secretaries!
Depending on the study, somewhere between 86-93% of Americans have cell phones and 25% of American homes have no land lines.
If you read the news stories you will see tragic tales across our nation of youth who have been the target of cyberbullying, blackmail, extortion and assault all because of something they carry in their pocket or their purse. Their cell phone. Most parents say that they give their children cell phones for safety reasons; so that they can reach one another at any time. But, we have handed over those cell phones to our youth without the tools to keep them safe while using those phones.
In Oakland County, we are no different than the other communities across the country. We have seen one case after another presented where the instrument used to commit the crime was the cell phone or the computer. Kids have received threatening messages on their phones. Kids have taken one another’s phones and sent inappropriate messages and/or photos. Kids have sent inappropriate messages with their own phones – and then been blackmailed!
After seeing too many of these cases, I arranged to meet with the schools and have set about educating our youth, one group at a time. My first presentation was in January 2010 and I now have visited over fifty schools and community groups. My goal is to educate the youth, to get them to hesitate before they send messages by cell phone or post messages on their social networking site. I talk with the youth about things they should know, but don’t. We talk about the laws – that it is a crime to send a threatening message, it is a crime to send sexually explicit photos as a minor and it is a crime to break into another person’s e-mail. We talk about bullying and the effect on victims. We talk about internet predators and how they can lure with fake accounts.
I try to accommodate as many speaker requests as my overburdened schedule allows. But, in order to truly reach our youth, I also need to enlist the help of the parents and other adults in the community. We wouldn’t hand over the car keys without teaching potential drivers the rules of the road. So let’s not hand them cell phones before giving them the rules of that road.
By educating the youth on the laws governing cell phone and computer usage, we can protect them from being bullied, from criminal charges and from potential predators. The rotary phone on the kitchen wall has been replaced with a portable device that fits in a pocket. In many instances, that portable device also replaces the computer in your home. We can’t change that, but we can find a way to make sure that the communication between youth does not put them at risk. I hope you will join me in this effort!