MMS 6th – Intro / 7th – Overexposed

I visited the 7th grade early last week and the 6th Grade today. Here is what we talked about:

6th Grade – Catching Up With Deputy Jake

I am getting a late start with the 6th grade this year, but before the year ends I will see them six times. I started by handing out their materials for the year: a folder, name tag and a STAR pencil.

After getting everything filled out, I talked to the students about their first half experience in middle school and I answered questions from the students that had built up from the last time I saw them in 5th grade.

img_7285I finished the class by introducing our 6th grade topics:

  1. Decision Making
  2. Caffeine and other stimulant drugs
  3. Marijuana and THC
  4. Alcohol
  5. DUI Goggle demonstration

We have a lot to do before the end of the school year. I hope the students find it interesting and enjoy our classes together.

After the brief intro into the 6th grade content, I had them complete the Time Capsule activity. Each student writes down a list of their favorite things on a worksheet I hand out,  and then they fold and staple it shut until the 7th Grade (I will hand them out on the 1st day next year). When the students open the capsules, they see how much their preferences change even over just a few months. At this point in their lives, everything is changing all the time for these kids; their bodies, minds and abilities are all still developing at a crazy rate. They might feel awkward or clumsy because of it, but the good news is that all of their peers feel the same way too (although they might not admit it to each other).

7th Grade Overexposed

I talked to the 7th grade about the appropriate behavior on the internet and use of their electronic devices. I gave the kids a power-point presentation about the current state of the law regarding the production and/or distribution of inappropriate photos of minors (or content that could qualify as child pornography).

This is a topic that wouldn’t have to be discussed on a middle school campus 10 years ago, but nowadays every kid has a cell phone or at least daily access to the internet (most middle-schoolers in the schools I teach at have a smart phone). There have been incidents at every school I visit regarding the inappropriate use of an internet device or cell phone, and most of the kids getting in trouble are in the 7th and 8th grade.

In case you were not aware, the current laws in California are harsh when it comes to content that could be used as child pornography:

  • Penal Code 311.1 and 311.2 make it a crime to knowingly send, transport, produce, possess or duplicate any child pornography, with intent to distribute it;
  • Penal Code 311.3 (“sexual exploitation of a child”) makes it a crime to knowingly develop, duplicate, print or exchange any child pornography;
  • Penal Code 311.4 makes it a crime to knowingly hire, employ, use, persuade, or coerce a minor to participate in the production of child pornography;
  • Penal Code 311.11 makes it a crime to knowingly possess or control any child pornography that was produced using a person under 18.

These laws would typically apply to an adult that produces, possesses or distribute this type of content, but it also applies to minors that take pictures of themselves or convince others to send inappropriate pictures. Kids that text, post or show these photos to others are breaking a very serious law. Even worse, each picture and each instance of sharing is a separate crime.

The penalties for youth sharing content like this is severely harsh. Depending on the content and the circumstances, the charges could be either misdemeanors or felonies, but the most damaging penalty is mandatory registration on the Sex Offender Database (which requires mandatory reporting for 10 years to life depending on the severity of the offense).

Generally speaking, if two kids get caught sharing inappropriate pictures, it is technically a crime under the laws cited above, but the issue would likely get resolved on the family or school level. However, once the photos start getting passed around (which unfortunately happens frequently) the likelihood of it becoming a criminal matter raises substantially. A child could potentially end up as a sex registrant at 12 years old.

I also talked to the kids about the general risks involved in producing and sending sensitive information or inappropriate photos out into cyberspace. At any moment there are crooks and predators online looking to exploit someone’s thoughtless mistake or over-risky behavior. Transmissions from phones are hacked all the time.
Former FBI Profiler Dr. Lisa Strohman cites numerous incidents of Latvian and Croatian hackers capturing “sext” photos from various US teens and selling/distributing them on the dark web and tech-savvy thieves can monitor and steal cell phone transmissions. Noone cares what you want for dinner or what time you want to meet at the movie theater, but underwear pics and credit card numbers will draw unwanted attention.

Whether the creep is a stranger or a classmate, predators will employ strong pressure tactics to persuade or coerce a victim into sending revealing information. It is not safe for a teen to communicate with strangers online (which is usually the draw), and oftentimes the trap is set with small relatively innocuous details that the teen shares. By the time the predator asks for more revealing information or content, they already have small trove of information about the victim to threaten exposing the relationship to family or fiends. Obviously, the child should go directly to their parents, but that pressure is too much for some kids. Sadly, we also see this tactic being used by teens on other teens. One kid sends a revealing photo, and the recipient threatens to post the photos online if they don’t receive more.

I finished the class by sharing general descriptions of some recent incidents at local schools that have similar facts to what was detailed above.

Suggestions for Parents:

  • Be a Snoop – Pay attention to how your child uses their internet enabled devices. Have rules about when and how they use them. You have every right to snoop in their room, phone, and backpack as much as you see fit, and if you perceive any warning signs don’t be afraid to investigate. Trust your instincts.
  • Have a system – If you don’t have some sort of monitoring software, have a regular protocol for checking your child’s phone or device. If you don’t have anything to be suspicious about, give them a little more rope, but don’t stop checking entirely.
  • Know the Apps on Your kids Phone – Does your 12 year old need instagram? What about those Chat-Snaps on the Snap-Chat? My answer is a resounding NO, but that’s for you to decide. Is there an App on the phone that you’ve never heard of? Check it out, so you can assess the potential risk.
  • Know the Passwords – Whatever you allow your child’s online profile to be, you are entitled to monitor all of it. Have a list of their passwords, so you can access whatever you need to one that device whenever you feel the need. If they aren’t comfortable with that, too bad.

Remember the things you were thinking in middle school? Now imagine that you had access to all the information in the world and could talk to or send anything to anyone in couple button pushes. Our kids need guidance, structure and accountability. Please give it to them.

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