The world of social media is one that has advanced beyond the realm of what many adults can grasp.
Although it may be a foreign concept to many parents, children and teenagers live in a far different world.
Det. Brandon Stigge wants to make sure parents are educated in the ways of social media and can help bridge the gap between what their children know and what they know.
Stigge has spent the past several years as a part of an FBI task force dealing with child exploitation and also examines cyber crimes with PPD. Through his extensive research, he is trying to educate parents when it comes to being aware of the many different avenues their child could be traveling through on social media.
“A lot of law enforcement agencies are putting out social media awareness,” Stigge said. “We want to educate parents on the front end of what potential pitfalls there could be and we want to educate the children about proper behavior on social media.”
Like in many other aspects of life, teenagers don’t want to be involved in the same walks of life as their parents. Therefore, they find their own path on social media.
“I equate it a little bit to fashion,” Stigge said. “If kids start wearing something and all of the sudden, they see a 40-year-old wearing it, guess what? They’re going to stop wearing it.
“It’s the same thing with social media. When Facebook started, teenagers were on it. But now that it’s used mostly by adults, the teenagers don’t want to be there anymore. So the younger people moved to Instagram and Snapchat.”
While parents may be aware of the mainstream social media outlets, there are many more their children are attempting to escape.
“There are a lot of apps the different age groups will move to,” Stigge said. “Unfortunately, there’s child predators that follow those trends very closely.”
Stigge said children aren’t always aware of the dangers that could be lurking on social media, usually from complete strangers.
“You get people from all over the world on these sites,” he said. “These kids will put things out there, including sexual material, and they don’t care. But once it’s out there, it’s out there.”
He added the amount of social media “likes” each student can receive is like a notch of popularity.
“They might have 4,000 followers on Instagram and that’s how popularity is determined,” Stigge said. “They try to find innovative ways to get followers. They look for that affirmation.”
Controlling dangerous content on social media is a task that can often times be too much for law enforcement agencies to handle.
“It’s difficult for us to track all of it and there are certain cases we have to prioritize,” he said. “That’s why we encourage parents if they suspect something, report it to us. Once the info is put out there, we can’t stop it.”
That’s why Stigge believes it’s critical for parents to play a role in curtailing social media behavior that may be taking place.
“There has to be a level of acceptance, married to a level of education,” he said. “Go into these conversations with your kids with some knowledge of the situation. Let them educate you and engage them to let them know you’re interested.”
And if you see your children acting inappropriately through social media, the easiest punishment may not always be the best solution.
“You can take the phone away, and I’m not saying that’s wrong, but it’s a quick fix,” Stigge said. “The internet is everywhere so these kids are going to go to school the next day and be around their friends and their phones.”
He added that a great way for parents to stay on top of the situation is to research the many apps that are available. While parents may be up to speed when it comes to Facebook, they likely have little knowledge about KIK or Secret Calculator.
“The best resource is the app itself,” he said. “None of them are a mystery. They all have websites where you can find out information, so go for the source.
“I’m a parent and as my kids get older, there are more things that engage you as a parent and there’s a lot to pay attention to. So it’s not just a matter of taking a peak at their phone. Look for info about the application.”
Stiggle said that being a parent will involve making hard decisions on knowing what takes place on your child’s phone.
“We always tell parents that if they don’t know their kids’ password, that’s on them,” he said.