Back To School Technology Safety Tips For Parents

My guest blog for the ICAC Task Force website, Internet Safety Resource Page, posted on 9-09-14 (

Like most parents, you probably had more homework the first day of school than your kids did. With endless forms to sign, and documents to read, it’s tempting to skip the reading and go straight to the signing. This isn’t a good idea when it comes the school’s Acceptable Use of Technology policy. These policies change as quickly as the technology, so please read this document each year. You should know the policy, and talk to your child about its’ rules and consequences, so they know and understand what is expected of them.

This is also a great time to teach your child YOUR technology use expectations. The Family Online Safety Institute conducted a study in 2012 titled “The Online Generation Gap”. They asked parents how many had spoken with their child about Internet safety rules and expectations, with 93% saying they had. Then they asked teens the same question, and only 61% said their parents had done so. I don’t believe either response were incorrect, just each had a different perspective and recollection. We should talk with teens many different times about this issue to assure they really hear and understand us.

Here are some great tips from some of my favorite online safety sites:

Commons Sense Media has some great suggestions with “18 Questions To Ask On Back To School Night”. The best part about these suggestions is how it helps frame questions based upon different amounts of time you may get with a teacher.

Here’s another back to school suggestion from A Platform for Good. This article titled “Back to School Tech for Success” focuses on how to balance screen time, creating a positive online reputation and standing against cyberbullying.

Ok, one last tip from my old friends at INOBTR. Their article “Happy Labor Day – Talk to your kids!” This article offers tips on bullying, new and popular apps, and the most important tip of all, having a conversation with your child about your expectations for their use of devices.

Two-way conversations are a great way to teach your child to be a responsible digital citizen. Wishing you a great school year!!


Parenting in the Age of Technology

My guest blog dated 4-22-14 for Darkness to Light, a great organization focusing on the prevention of child sexual abuse:

What scares you about your child’s online world? Is it online predators, cyberbullying, or maybe naked images being sent to or from friends? How do you manage all of these worrisome issues in your home? Our kids, especially teens, crave privacy but still need parents to balance supervision with their independence.

Parenting is hard enough, and now we have to deal with all these high tech communication tools. Here’s a tip. When things seem overwhelming, break them down to their simplest form, like – what did parents do before the Internet or smart phones? Also, don’t think of Online and Offline as two separate worlds, but your child’s everyday life, their connection to friends and social world.

As parents, we engage with our kids and their friends in real life. It’s what you do if your child’s friend visits your home. You greet them; you ask about their lives, school, teams, and parents. You let your child and friend go off and hang out, but eventually you’ll check on them – ask if they need anything, or if the friend needs to call home to check in.

That’s involving yourself as a parent, stepping into their world, stepping out, and stepping back in as needed.

How about phone calls to your home phone? You’ll ask who’s calling. Many times you’ll also have a short conversation with the caller and watch your child roll their eyes while you chat with their friend. Both of these are examples of involved parenting. You aren’t participating as a friend to your child, but engaging with those who are part of your kid’s life.

Engaging with your child in the online world may sound impossible, and may not be easy, but it certainly isn’t impossible. Open the lines of communication!! Years ago when AIM (AOL Instant Messaging) was very popular, I sent my then 13-year-old daughter a message for the first time. It was a short “How was your day” message right after school. Her response – “Dad, you’re freaking me out.”

Why would such a simple message create such a terrified response? Because she didn’t think Dad belonged in her online world. We laugh about it now, but it took a little time to get past the idea that the online world isn’t a private or secret place only for kids and their friends, but a communication tool that we all use.

Try this. Next time your son or daughter is texting a friend, ask who they’re texting and say, “Let me say hi.” You may get the same “you’re freaking me out” response, but wouldn’t you say hi if they were visiting or calling your home? It isn’t any different, and an involved parent knows their child’s friends.

I grew up in a house with six kids and one phone, and all of us would have been horrified to find our parents listening in on the extension. What if you found your parents reading your diary or notes passed from friends in school? Yet, today, I’ve had parents proudly say, “Nothing is private in my house. I read all their texts after they’re in bed.”

Just because we can, doesn’t me we should. Spend that time talking with your child about your rules and expectations, not spying on them and trying to catch them doing sometime wrong.

Our kids use all sorts of devices, from smart phones to gaming systems, and we have more to be more engaged as parents. Online predators aren’t the only troubling issue for parents, but secrecy and lack of parental involvement may be the all the opening a predator needs to connect with a child.

Being involved is the greatest responsibility of parenting, and that means to knowing your child, their interests and friends, and having conversations about their lives and dreams. It can sometimes be difficult and scary in this age of technology, but I know you’ll find the right degree of involvement.

Inspiring and Engaging Youth In Technology Safety Messaging

This is my guest blog written for the (Internet Resources) website, posted on 3-11-14

I’ve been conducting Internet Safety presentations for more than a decade and over this time they’ve certainly evolved.  I’ve learned that we must talk with youth, not at them, and to avoid being the “don’t police”.  I’ve learned that Technology Safety is so much more than trying to stop youth from doing something, but should inspire youth to take ownership of their actions with an understanding of personal responsibility.

Over the years, I’ve been asked by those inside and outside of law enforcement – Is law enforcement’s involvement in technology safety and prevention beyond their scope of responsibility?  I’ve never wavered from my strong stance that law enforcement has a major responsibility to be involved with prevention, but have learned that prevention requires great thought and care, and that we can’t do it alone.

I remember how we told stories of teens who were lured and enticed from their home by online predators, and expected that scary message to impact how kids communicated with on-screen strangers.  In reality, our message was delivered with the greatest intentions, but sadly influenced only a small percentage of youth, because most left that presentation believing they were way too smart to be tricked like that.  We know that youth can be tricked and there are real dangers, but we also now know that those scare tactics weren’t successful.

Then came cyberbullying, and once again we were asked to talk with youth about that issue.  This was a reach for some in law enforcement, mostly because it was viewed as just kids being kids, and in many cases the behaviors weren’t a crime anyway.  Well, laws have been written and presentations later, it’s still an issue that gains a lot of attention, and generates many presentation requests.  To help you look at addressing this issue in a new way, check out The Community Action Toolkit on the website.  Use some of your prevention time toward creating a comprehensive prevention plan.  Prevention involves much more than a one-time assembly, but rather a holistic approach involving all stakeholders – parents, schools, law enforcement AND YOUTH!!

In a recent article in the Huffington Post titled “In Defense of Internet Safety Education”, Larry Magid furthers my perspective of expanding our prevention messages beyond the school assembly.  We have to find ways to inspire and engage youth to be the torchbearers of our messages, and to help us create new ones.  I hope you keep looking for ways to expand your prevention methods, and if you have any innovative ideas you’d like to share, please email me at: and we’ll work at passing it along to everyone.

Open Letter Reference MO HB 1463

RE: Missouri HB 1463 (2014)

I accept that this bill shows a concern for the victims of Child Sex Trafficking, but find that it fails in the “victim-centered approach” specifically needed and called for in these types of cases.

There are a number of concerns directly related to the wording of the bill:

  1. This methodology further victimizes the child by creating a criminal justice process that basically begins and ends with incarceration, with no victim services.
  2. This bill states in Section 1 – “….shall be placed in detention…”  Officers are taught to determine the “totality of circumstances” when dealing with offenses and victim, and this allows no discretion whatsoever.
  3. Although it appears to be a 48 hour detention, by adding the requirement of a detention hearing within 24 hours, this actually can be a 72 hour hold, or even longer in some circumstances.
  4. Detaining juveniles in a detention facility for “runaway” offenses is contrary to status offense legal requirements for law enforcement, which prohibits secure facilities.
  5. Using the Division of Family Services (Children’s Division) system for protective custody may sound like a great idea, but many of these child victims are already involved with the foster care system and haven’t been served well in that environment.  Sadly, Department of Social Services has been slow to respond to the Human Trafficking Law that went into effect in August 2011.  More than 2 years have past and they are just instituting a mechanism for law enforcement to make notification of a Human Trafficking incident.  (See 566.223, section 4)
  6. Once a juvenile enters some detention centers they are assigned an attorney, and in very few instances will an attorney ever allow the juvenile to be interviewed.  Yes, the idea is to find a way to protect the child from a trafficker, yet, the attorney is going to think in terms of how do I get this child out of detention – and that clearly means – DO NOT admit to being a victim of trafficking.
  7. Under Section 7 – “If the juvenile indicates in any manner and at any stage of questioning under this section that he or she does not wish to be questioned further; the officer shall cease questioning.” This could be a major roadblock to obtaining information, and would appear that as with Miranda, once invoked, always invoked, and no further questioning can take place.  If no further questioning can take place, and there has been no admission of trafficking, why hold the child any longer?

Efforts to protect child victims of sex trafficking are absolutely needed.  The Federal Human Trafficking Strategic Plan (2-13-2017) identifies a need to “Coordinate victims services through collaboration across multiple service sectors”.  After State Protective Custody Placement, there are no services or protocols identified as “next steps” for these victim youth. This plan has limited chance for successfully helping victims of child sex trafficking, simply because it has no plan of action to provide services needed through a victim-centered approach.

Lt. Joe Laramie, ret.


Your Online Privacy

I wrote this as a guest blogger for the National Internet Crimes Against Children  (ICAC) Task Force website ( , originally posted 12-30-13:

Recently the news has been filled with information and discussion about our digital privacy.  Much of this has centered on the government and the 4th Amendment, but I’m not hearing much about our own choices with our personal information.  In other words, how much information do we knowingly and unknowingly share through our use of “free” search engines or social media.  I’m probably misusing the word “free” to describe these sites, because there really is a cost.  The cost is our personal information, privacy and in many cases, our identity.

Many of us, youth and adults, are unaware of how information we post on social networks is made available to others outside our immediate network.  But, we also forget how much of what we do online is being captured and used to market to us.  This behavioral marketing is why we get advertisements for products recently researched.  The use of online resources is so easy and common that we have become numb to what is happening behind the digital curtain.

Are you aware of what you share when you search for products on Google or Bing?  Do you use Facebook to “check in” and identify your location?  What about your images on Instagram?  All of these great tools have many benefits, so please don’t take this as a message to stop, but a message of reminder.

How we share information is sometimes our own choice.  Our tweets, Facebook postings or Instagram photos are obviously linked to our user name and shared with a variety of others depending on our privacy settings.   What we often don’t think about is how these sites and many others collect and share information about us without our knowledge.  I didn’t say without our permission, because we give these sites a great amount of latitude to collect and share our information when we click “agree” to their Terms of Service.

How do you control the collection of all of this data?  If you’re using the Internet you can’t control everything, but there are some choices you can make about what you share with others through social media.  Do you use the “check in” feature on Facebook and post that you’re at the airport, just arrived at DisneyWorld, or out to dinner at a local restaurant?  Do you post your vacation photos to Instagram as they are taken?  These are just a few examples of telling others that you’re not home.   

Many of us “Like” a company in order to enter a contest or get a discount, but that may mean the company is going to use your Facebook page to advertise their products to your friends.  Over-sharing our activities and interests has become easy and quite common, but may not always be the best idea.

There is “Do Not Track” software available to protect your digital privacy and search engines such as Internet Explorer, Firefox, Google Chrome and Safari also allow users to change privacy settings to prevent online tracking.  Take time to learn how to utilize the “Do Not Track” privacy settings and pay attention to who is hiding behind the digital curtain.  




Don’t Let Technology Change Your Parenting

I wrote this blog as a guest blogger for the ICAC Task Force website  – originally posted 4-17-13.

So much as changed since 2001, the year I first became involved with the ICAC program, and a time when Facebook didn’t even exist.   I used to give Internet safety presentations, but now give technology safety presentations.  I used to suggest parents put the computer in a common room, but now computers are hand-held devices we carry in our pockets.  How things have changed, but at the same time, are really the same.

Many may find all this technology to be intimidating, and feel our kids and teens are far more adept at its use.  But let’s just break it down to what we know by taking technology out of the discussion for a moment.  When your child goes out on a Saturday night, you ask three simple but important questions.  1) Where are you going?  2) Who are you going with?  3) What time will you be home?

As involved parents, we want to know what our kids are doing and whom they’re hanging out with.  If your son or daughter’s friend visits your home, you greet him or her when they arrive, periodically check on them, and say goodbye when they leave.  You probably don’t hang out with them, but step into, then out of their world during that visit.  That is the essence of involved parenting, stepping in – stepping out.

Now back to technology.  We want to know what our kids are doing with their devices; whom they’re friending, texting or chatting with, and what kind of sites they visit.  It’s that “where are you going” line of questions and there is a fine line between checking on your son or daughter, and spying on them, but find ways to be be involved.  For example, when you child is texting a friend, ask who they’re texting.  When they say it’s just (insert friend’s name here), then say you want to say hi!  I know you’ll probably hear – NO WAY, but if that same friend called your house, you’d talk to them.  We’re letting changing technology create barriers that aren’t really there.

You can’t be with your child day and night, so you have to give them the tools to make the right decisions with technology when you aren’t there.  Let them know you care, but set rules and talk with them about your expectations.  Talk with them often.  They need to hear how your message fits the variety of devices they use and the many pressures they experience.   Don’t forget your mission.  They may know how to use technology better than adults, but we as parents know how to guide our kids to become independent and responsible citizens.


If it is on the Internet – It’s NOT Private

This is my guest blog for, posted on 03-14-13:–-it’s-not-private/

Think of social media as a chain link fence.  Even though we are all linked together, there are lots of holes.  The fence seems pretty strong, but will lose its strength if any of the links are broken.  We count on that weakest link to hold things together, but sometimes it causes the fence to fail.

Recently I watched a news story about a Chief of Police getting suspended for posting an inappropriate photo on Facebook.  It was sad to see someone in such a highly respected position lose so much from a silly mistake.  His mistake of posting the photo was compounded by his belief that it was private.

He reportedly has said his Facebook was “hacked.”  Although that’s possible, it’s more likely that his Facebook wasn’t hacked, but rather contained a weak link.  I don’t know if the person who copied the photo did so with malice, or just thought the image was funny, but in the end, it didn’t matter. Please don’t assume that anything you post on your Facebook or any other social media site is ever private.

The very nature of social media is sharing.  The very nature of the internet is that anything and everything can be copied.   Once this inappropriate photo was shared, he lost control of who could see it or copy it.  On Facebook we place trust in others to make good decisions about our content.  However, as in this situation, if the poster can’t determine what is or isn’t appropriate, they certainly can’t trust others to know.

Many people will “like,” “comment,” or “share” a friend’s Facebook photo.   When that happens, it will be distributed to many others outside the original circle of friends.  Some people don’t allow sharing of their photos.  This does limit who can see the image, but never stops someone from making a screen capture of it.  There are many free screen capture programs for a PC, and on a Mac it’s built into the operating system, so these are readily available to everyone.

Even if you know all your friends on Facebook, anyone can still copy your words or pictures without your knowledge or permission.  Never post anything you don’t want copied and shared with others, because if it is on the internet it’s not private.  You just never know which link of your fence may fail you.

Too Much Screen Time

This is my guest blog posted on the iKeepSafe website on 2-19-2013:

One of the most talked about new gadgets to emerge from the Consumer Electronic Show this year is the iPotty, a child potty training toilet with a mounting for an iPad.

When I saw this new take on toilet training, my immediate reaction was, “Not with my iPad you don’t!”

Let’s look at this issue from a larger perspective: screen time.  Are we doing something to our children instead of for our children?  When we give small kids, particularly those under 2, our devices, technology, and even television screen time, it is often a way to entertain or pacify them.

I’ve seen parents in a restaurant with a fussy child—often one that is being ignored—give their child a smart phone to play with so that the parent can return to their adult conversation.  Yes, it’s so cute that a small child can do things on a smart phone, but it doesn’t replace what they are really craving, which is human interaction.

I remember how much I enjoyed reading books to my kids when they were little.  Often they wanted me to read the same book over and over, and memorized all the words to books like Goodnight Moon.  They loved turning the pages, pointing to the words and pictures, sitting on my lap and loudly saying “The end” as we closed the book together.

There were a lot of things happening during those reading sessions.  We were bonding, building language and fine motor skills, and many other things important to child-development.  Of course I shouldn’t fail to mention it was special time for Dad!

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under 2 have no screen time and children between the age of 2 and 5 have less than 1-2 hours of screen time a day.  Think about family time in front of the television, and then add to that the time a child has with a smart phone or iPad.  It’s easy to go quickly past the  2 hour maximum.

A recent study by Common Sense Media on technology for ages 0 to 8 included an alarming statistic involving children and television.  30% of children ages 0 to 1 and 44% of children age 2 to 4 have a television in their bedroom.  Why?

A young person’s brain is greatly influenced by their experiences.  We must be careful to monitor the over-use of technology by our young children.  The more they use technology the greater the chance for its use to become addictive and even worse, replace the important developmental activities, like quality time with Mom and Dad.

What Can You Do To Protect Children?

My guest blog for iKeepSafe, posted on 1-14-13:  See

One of the highlights of last year was the privilege of serving with the 2012 Missouri Task Force on the Prevention of Sexual Abuse of Children.  On January 3, 2013 our report was sent to Governor Nixon, the General Assembly and State Board of Education, and released for all citizens.  The report is about protecting children from harm and I’m sure you know we can’t dismiss the technology connection to this issue.

The report begins, “Child sexual abuse is a silent epidemic in Missouri and throughout the nation.”  This subject affects us all, and we have a responsibility to protect our children.  So how do you help?  What can you do?

Recommendation #1 states, “Community-based child sexual abuse prevention education needs to be expanded and be comprehensive in nature.”  This includes prevention education for children, parents, staff and volunteers of youth-serving organizations, schools and the community as a whole.  You can find a great resource for prevention information at “StopItNow.”

You can recommend prevention training to your child’s day-care or school as well as the organization running their sports teams or other activities.  Any place that you allow someone else to supervise your child, prevention training should be included.

Recommend to these organizations and agencies that they develop a policy to protect children in their care, and that all staff and participants know the policy.   Also, recommend they have a plan and know what to do if there is a report of child abuse.

Know where to turn to make a report of child sexual abuse or exploitation.  Each state has a child abuse hotline—know your state’s number!  Every citizen has a responsibility to make a report if they suspect a child is being abused, don’t rely on others.

If the exploitation is online, make the report to the CyberTipline ( or 1-800-843-5678).  For more information on the CyberTipline—see my blog posted on 6-26-12.

We need a holistic approach to keeping children safe from those who would inflict harm.  This isn’t just the responsibility of those in the child protection field; it is the responsibility of all citizens.  Take time to review this report and find something you can do to prevent the abuse of our children.  As my friend and former Director of Training for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children says “You now have been given the burden of knowledge.”  I say, pass it on!!

Time For Your Kids

This is my guest blog posted on the website on 1-02-2013:

During every holiday season we seem to hug our kids and tell them how much we love them just a bit more often. And with the tragic events in Newtown, that bit more has increased to a lot more.  Connecting with our kids is the most powerful thing a parent can do.

Kids and teens will have a lot of time on their hands during their winter break from school and those new games and devices they found under the tree will be begging for all their time.  How they use that time is important.  Here’s a quote from the Pew Internet & American Life Project 2012 Report on the Future of the Internet that highlights that issue.  “My friends are less interested in genuine human interaction than they are at looking at things on Facebook.”

I love cookies (actually my mother says it was my first word) and yet I can’t eat cookies all the time.  The sugar high, the expanding waistline and a variety of other health issues keeps me from that binge.

I love technology too (my wife probably has something witty to say about this) yet I can’t, nor should I spend my life on my devices.  You know the tired eyes, the expanding waistline (yep, just like the cookies) plus a variety of issues involving a lack of personal interaction.

With wrapping paper scattered near and far, and opened presents being put to the test, it may seem hard to connect with your kids.  After all, they have music to listen to, video games to play and so many friends’ contact information to enter into their new phones.

If you’re home with your kids, find ways to spend time with them – talking, laughing and sharing experiences.  If you choose to play a video game, make sure it’s about communicating and sharing, and not just about competing.

If you can’t be home with the kids during their entire break, think about setting some parameters for how much time they will spend on those new toys.  Passive use of technology is a poor replacement for active communication, interactive play and engagement with other children or adults.

Treasure the time and closeness with loved ones that the Holidays bring!  Best wishes for a Special Holiday and Happy 2013!!