(TNS) -- One in every seven children in America have been sexually solicited by adult predators through social media, according to statistics presented Wednesday at a social media/texting safety presentation for parents of Clear Run Intermediate School students in Tobyhanna.
About 40 percent of these sexual solicitations started with instant messaging between children and predators.
Bored, lonely or looking for attention, children connect with these predators who pretend to be friends and gain the children's trust, according to information presented to parents by Clear Run Intermediate and Pocono Mountain School District officials, Pocono Mountain Regional Police and the Monroe County District Attorney's Office.
The children end up giving away too much personal information, such as their names, what schools they attend, where they live and when they're home alone. Predators then either go to the children's homes when the children are alone or ask to meet the children in person somewhere else, intending to kidnap them.
The other problem is children using social media to cyber-bully other children, "sext" each other or send each other inappropriate messages or pictures.
Parents can take steps to guard against this.
Dr. Stephen Spengler, director of instructional technology for the Pocono Mountain School District, presented "digital parenting" tips.
Spengler said parents should:
* Talk with their children early and often, staying calm and being open and direct.
* Educate themselves by searching online for anything they don't understand about social media and texting. Try out apps, games and sites. Explore tips and resources at www.fosi.org/good-digital-parenting/.
* Control children's social media access. Activate safety settings in online operating systems, search engines and games. Use controls on children's phones, tablets and game consoles. Monitor children's use and screen time.
* Friend and follow, but don't stalk children online. Respect their online space while encouraging them to create and maintain good digital reputations.
* Explore, share and celebrate with children in their online world. Take advantage of new ways of communicating with them. Learn from them and have fun.
* Be good digital role models for children. Curb bad digital habits, know when to unplug and show children how to collaborate and create online.
Spengler suggested parents create and have children sign social-media-access contracts.
These contracts should require children to:
* Seek parental permission before joining any social media site and let parents set privacy and control settings on all social media accounts.
* Give their passwords to no one but their parents for all social media accounts and not change the passwords without parental permission.
* Not set up any private or secret social media accounts.
* Not post or share any personal information, "selfies" or pictures of family or friends online without parental permission.
* Not post or share anything offensive or inappropriate.
* Not meet in person anyone met through social media.
* Not engage in online bullying. Also, children being bullied should let their parents know.
* Continually meet academic standards set by parents before gaining or continuing any social media access.
* Follow parental rules on time limits for online use.
* Understand that posting certain types of photos or information online is criminal.
* Understand that violating any part of this contract will result in consequences to be determined by parents.
Parents can Google social media apps to learn which ones are safe or unsafe for minors and why, Spengler said.
Apps viewed as safe are Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, Linkedin, Pinterest, Twitter and YouTube. Apps that can be both good and bad are VooVoo, Periscope, SMS, Snapchat, Tumblr, Vine and WhatsApp.
Apps not for minors are AfterSchool, Ask.fm, BurnBook, Calculator% Private Photo, Kik Messenger, Omegle, Secret, StreetChat, WhatsGoodly, Whisper, Yik Yak, YouNow and Tinder.
Pocono Mountain Regional Police Detective Ryan Venneman, who poses as a girl with a fake social media account to catch online predators, re-emphasized the importance of parents closely monitoring what their children are doing and with whom the children are in contact. Monroe County District Attorney's Office Detective Brian Webbe, a digital forensic investigator, discussed ways in which people leave online trails that can be tracked by law enforcement and used to capture predators.
Assistant District Attorney Matt Bernal, whose office investigates online crimes, discussed the consequences of such crimes for juveniles and adults.
"In my (more than 15) years as principal, this is the first I've become aware of the amount of social media out there and its impact on our children," said Clear Run Intermediate Principal Regina Schank, who worked with Pocono Mountain Regional Police School Resource Officer Erica Burke in organizing the presentation. "We need to get the message out."
Health/Physical Education Director Beth DeLay echoed this, saying, "We want to equip our kids with the tools they need to get through daily life without any ill consequences."
Parents seeking a list of apps to monitor and control their children's social media access can Google information or contact Pocono Mountain Regional Police Officer Ryan Venneman at 570-895-2400.
©2017 the Pocono Record, Stroudsburg, Pa. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.