What’s on your Facebook?
Earlier this year 16-year-old Kiera Murphy visited her soccer teammate’s My Space page and read some inappropriate comments on her younger friend’s status description.
“I talked to her at the next soccer practice,” she said. “I asked her why she was doing it, that people might get the wrong impression about her. She said she didn’t even realize that what she was doing was wrong.”
Kiera, who considers herself “an avid textmessenger” and social media user, confirms something that is a fact: teenagers couldn’t function without their cell phones and the internet.
“It’s very popular,” she said. “It’s a thing that we grew up with.”
But just like the internet and cell phones are wonderful technological tools that help kids do research for homework and to stay in touch with their families and friends, the technology has made it easier for teenagers to fall prey to sexual predators or to be used as sexual objects, especially for girls.
Sexting, a form of text messages that include sexual references, is a common practice among teenage girls, who sometimes have older, maybe even over 18, boyfriends. Also, it is common for teens to upload pictures of themselves with a sexual overtone. (Recently, teen sensation and Mexican singer Belinda, was caught on video topless while using instant message with her ex-boyfriend, who didn’t tell her he was recording her with a webcam.)
A recent Cox Communications’ survey on cyber-safety found that many teens are going online without limits or controls.
The survey found that 91 percent of teens have an e-mail address, and 73 percent have a cell phone. And 72 percent of teens surveyed have online profiles on social networking sites where many have posted photos of themselves and their friends, along with personal information.
Although 59 percent of teens surveyed said having personal information or photos on a public site is unsafe, and 26 percent say they know someone who has had something bad happen to them because of this, still, 62 percent of teens post photos of themselves on blogs or social networking sites and greater than 40 percent name their school or the city in which they live.
And 19 percent of teens surveyed have engaged in sexting.
“Many teens don’t realize that what they are putting on their pages can be seen by anyone, not just their friends,” Kiera said. “Many middle school girls who are going through puberty are constantly being told by the media that it is cool to expose yourself online.”
The Cox Teen Summit on Internet and wireless safety in Washington D.C. was held in June. Kiera was the San Diego representative, and she participated in the panel discussion with John Walsh from “America ’s Most Wanted.”
“We selected Kiera due to her involvement and leadership, and it was a plus that her parents are teachers who bring another perspective to the discussion,” said Ceanne Guerra, spokesperson for Cox. “As one the major Internet providers in San Diego, we feel that the Internet is a wonderful tool, but like everything, parents always have to have rules, and teens have to be smart about how they’re using the technology.”
As part of this campaign, Cox created a website, Take Charge, to help educate parents and youth about being safe on the Internet and with their cell phones.
Also, Kiara plans to visit every middle school in the Sweet-water Union High School District and organizing all-girls assemblies where high school students like her can share their experiences with online social media and text messaging.
“It’s an honor, as an older high schooler, to talk to young-er girls about the dangers of the Internet, and about how to be safe. It makes me proud to help other younger girls,” she said.
Guerra agreed that “teens really listen to teens.”
But at home, parents can do a lot to help their children use the Internet and wireless technology wisely, said Susie Murphy, Kiera’s mother and a teacher at Cook Elementary School in Chula Vista.
“I think parents buy all these things (computers and cell phones) without understanding the technology,” she said. “Parents have to be educated about the dangers that exist, and they need to teach their children how to control usage of cell phone and computers.”
Nineteen percent teens surveyed go online via their cell phone and 19 percent say their parents are unaware. The vast majority of teens (80 percent) whose parent know they go online via their cell phone say they are not given any limits or controls — far fewer than are given boundaries on their desktop PC or laptop.
Guerra said that Cox is planning to have Spanish-language presentations in schools to help educate Latino families, who represent the fastest-growing segment in Internet usage. Currently, about 52 percent of Latino families in San Diego have Internet access at home, she said.
“We don’t’ want language barriers to prevent parents from receiving important information on Internet and wireless safety,” Guerra said.
To learn more about Cox’s Take Charge program, including information in Spanish, visit www.cox.com/takecharge.