August 18, 2017

Legal News You Can Use: What Parents of Teens and Tweens Should Know About Social Media

CautionSocialNetworkSponsored Post: Social media has forever changed our society. Nowhere is this shift more prevalent than in the arena of parenting. The exponential growth of the internet generally, and social media specifically, has created relatively uncharted territory for parents of teens and “tweens.”

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), 22 percent of teenagers log on to their favorite social media site more than 10 times per day. More than half of adolescents log on to a social media site more than once a day, creating an environment where a large part of this generation’s social and emotional development is occurring while on the internet or cell phone.

Consider this reliance on social media in conjunction with a U.S. National Institute of Mental Health study (The Teen Brain: Still Under Construction). This study indicates that an adolescent brain is constantly being “revived” and “upgraded” until their mid to late twenties. If our children do not use social media responsibly, it can be a recipe for disaster. Not only can they be victims of irresponsible social media behavior, they can also be perpetrators.

The explosion of social media applications has also created new ways for online sexual predators to find victims. Several social media sites claim to be able to verify age to ensure safety for our children, but the reality is that this verification cannot be done effectively. Predators posing as teenagers on Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, and in chat rooms permeate the internet and pose dangers to our children.

Some parents may try to forbid their children from even having an account on one of these sites, but it can be difficult to keep them away from social media. Should you decide to allow your children to access social media, you should implement some guidelines to protect your child. The website Protectkids.com suggests some “Rules N Tools” for social networking sites such as:

  • Teach your child to never give personal information over the internet
  • Pay attention to the photos your child posts online
  • Regularly ask your child about their online activities and friends
  • Instruct your child never to plan a face-to-face meeting with someone they met online
  • Act like a child; search blog sites children visit to see what information is posted
  • Establish rules on how your child can use the computer and how much time they can spend online

You should also set parental controls on all computing systems, instruct your child to use privacy settings on their accounts so they will limit who is able to see their social media profiles, and stay up to date on anti-virus and anti-spyware software which gives you the ability to view online activity. For an in-depth discussion of these topics, Protectkids.com has a wealth of helpful information to make your child’s use of the computer safer.

The dangers do not stop there.  There are a variety of crimes children can commit with their use of the internet, social media and cell phones. The previously referenced AAP article states rather ominously, “What goes online stays online.”

Your child may send a threatening text in anger, send or post a photo meant to embarrass another person, send sexually suggestive words or pictures, or use social media to bully someone. All of these behaviors can violate laws and lead to criminal charges. Even if a post is deleted, other people can easily capture the image or video and cause it to proliferate across multiple sites.

The most dangerous behavior is the transmission of sexually explicit images or videos. Should your child send such an image, it could be considered the transmission of child pornography. If they receive such an image, it could be considered possession of child pornography. Not only could this behavior result in criminal charges, it could result in a civil lawsuit demanding monetary damages as well.

Our office once represented an individual who was accused of making an offensive, threatening post on a social media site. Realizing their mistake, they removed the post. However, another individual had already taken a screenshot of the post and forwarded it to law enforcement. Imagine being the parent of this child and having the SWAT team show up at your door to arrest your child because of a post they made on social media. While this is an extreme example, it is a real one.

In closing, work with your child to discuss how they should behave online and set acceptable parameters for internet use. Stay vigilant by monitoring their access and utilizing appropriate filters and anti-spyware software. Talk with them so that a mistake made during their formative years will not be one which they will have to carry with them into adulthood.

About the author: Attorney Michael A. Blanchard is a Director at Suisman Shapiro whose practice concentrates in criminal and family law. Please contact him via email at mblanchard@sswbgg.com or via phone at (860) 442-4416 with questions regarding these laws.

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Legal News You Can Use: Technology can be Worrisome for Parents

internet_safetySponsored by Suisman Shapiro Attorneys at Law:

The issues facing parents today, as technology ushers in newer and faster means of communicating, are markedly different from those faced by our parents.  Through ever increasing methods of communication, our children have, at their fingertips, the ability to reach a multitude of people in an instant.  Take that instantaneous availability, and mix in the processing and maturity of the adolescent brain, and, in the blink of any eye, circumstances may be set in motion that can immediately change the course of your child’s life.

While the above may seem drastic, it is, nevertheless, true.  On the Internet, our children can access and disseminate child pornography, commit racial and bigotry crimes, and violate our state’s bullying laws, without even knowing it.   Through posts on Facebook, Twitter, Yik Yak, Flickr, Tumblr and MeetUp, just to name a few social media sites, words and images can be sent into the vast world of social media and the internet, where they can be reposted, retweeted, tagged and sent to all corners of the globe.  Once sent, they are there for all to see, including law enforcement.

This onslaught has led organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics to issue clinical reports on the impact of social media and sexting on our children (Fn1).  Further, it has led each state, Connecticut included, to pass laws making it a crime to engage in certain activity that affects the health and safety of our children.

While this article is not meant to be an in depth analysis of each and every statute which criminalizes certain conduct of our children through their use of social media, it bears mentioning some common issues which arise.  One widespread problem that occurs in the educational environment is bullying.

Connecticut has enacted a comprehensive statute, in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Education, to ensure that bullying does not impede our children’s learning environment.  Enactment of criminal laws, some of which are felonies punishable by more than one year in jail, has made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity.

Another common problem occurs if your child sends a “visual depiction” of child pornography (nude or showing genitalia) of himself/herself or that of his/her partner, and either one of them is under 16-years-old, they have violated our state’s “possessing or transmitting child pornography” statutes (fn2).  If they use their Facebook account to meet someone under 16, for the purposes of engaging in a sexual act, they have violated our state’s “enticing a minor” statute.

The above is just a snapshot of the complex issues that occur when you mix the not-yet-fully formed mind of a child and the speed of the Internet and social media.  It is also the reason you should seek competent legal representation when confronted with these issues.  Consulting with the right attorney can potentially prevent mistakes such as those mentioned above from affecting your child’s future.

Editor’s Note: Attorney Michael A. Blanchard is a Director at Suisman Shapiro whose practice concentrates in criminal and family law.  Contact him via email at mblanchard@sswbgg.com or via phone at (860) 442-4416 with questions regarding these laws.

Fn1.  Clinical Report-the Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents, and Families; O’Keeffe, Gwenn Schurgin, Clarke-Pearson, Kathleen and COUNCIL ON COMMUNICATIONS AND MEDIA; published online March 28, 2011; Sexting and Sexual Behavior among Middle School Students; Rice, Eric PhD, et als; published online June 30, 2014.

Fn2.  Connecticut General Statutes sections 53a-181i through 53a-181l.

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