Sheriff’s Office offers tips on ‘Parenting Tech-Savvy Kids’


The video shows a 10-year-old girl sitting at the computer in her bedroom, typing away.

Chatting online, the girl happily makes plans for a play date with her 10-year-old friend, Sam. Only “Sam” isn’t 10 and he isn’t a friend; he’s an adult man who has cleverly tricked the girl into revealing her phone number, address and the fact that she is at home alone.

“If you think this doesn’t happen, it does,” Lt. Mike Strausbaugh of the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office told a group of Nocatee parents and kids last week. “We have a whole unit that sits behind closed doors and searches the internet for people like this who are looking for kids.”

How to parent and protect children who are often far more technologically savvy than their parents was the focus of Strausbaugh’s presentation Sept. 20 at Nocatee’s Crosswater Hall. The 90-minute seminar provided attendees with background on a variety of topics – from social media and cyberbullying to internet pornography and sexting. And in order to protect children from the dangers on the internet, Strausbaugh said, parents first need to familiarize themselves with the programs and apps today’s kids are using.

“My son can run rings around me when it comes to this stuff,” Strausbaugh said. “They are far, far better at this than we are and there’s a lot of dangerous stuff on the internet.”

Cellphone secrets

Many parents may be unaware of the number and variety of applications – or apps – available to kids on their cellphones, Strausbaugh said.

“It’s a different world than we lived in,” he said. “We used to carry backpacks; kids today may still carry backpacks, but their entire life is in that phone.”

At the presentation, attendees viewed an ABC News segment where parents of a group of 11- to 13-year-old girls were surprised to learn their daughters had applications such as Calculator% – an app designed to look like a regular calculator but that can hide photos and other files from prying parental eyes. One mother was shocked to learn that her 11-year-old daughter had more than 1,000 Instagram followers and was receiving messages from strangers asking “R U a virgin?”

“She’s 11 – do you think she even knows half of those people?” Strausbaugh asked. “When we were kids, we had like 10 or 15 good friends,” he said. “Now, kids consider people they ‘know’ or ‘like’ on Instagram to be friends – and that’s scary.”

Strausbaugh recommended that parents check their children’s cell phones periodically for questionable apps, photos or text messages.

“We as parents cannot be afraid to ask for that phone and look at that phone,” he said. “It’s your phone.”

Internet pornography and sexting

Research shows that the average age of first exposure to internet pornography is 11, Strausbaugh said.

“Kids are one click away from some pretty serious stuff that will imprint on their brain forever,” he said.

Also of major concern: sexting, or the sending of sexually explicit images or content. It’s a serious problem, Strausbaugh said, with many girls saying they were pressured by a boy to send sexually explicit photos, only to have the boy share the images with the world online.

“If you have young ladies, make sure no matter what boys ask for, they don’t get involved in (sexting),” he said. “Once it’s out there, it’s out and you’ll never get it back.”

Teens should also be aware of the serious legal ramifications of sexting, Strausbaugh added. While a first offense is considered non-criminal and carries only a small fine and community service requirements, a second texting offense is a misdemeanor. A third offense is a felony. What’s more, if the first offense involves sending images of a sexual act, it automatically becomes a felony.


Once constrained to the school yard, bullying has also moved online, becoming all the more insidious due to the viral nature of the internet and the fact that the victim cannot escape from the torment even in their own home. At the Nocatee presentation, attendees watched a video about the true story of a girl who was bullied at school and online so relentlessly that she ultimately committed suicide.

“We’re behind the eight ball because people can sit behind their computer screen and fling that stuff out there,” said Strausbaugh, who noted that girls are more likely to bully peers online than boys. “It can get real nasty real fast.”

If a parent suspects their child is being bullied online, Strausbaugh said, they should notify school administrators. In 2013, the Florida legislature passed a law that allows schools to discipline students for off-campus harassment.

“Schools used to just deal with what happened within the walls of the school,” he said. “That law gives them the right to go out and discipline (students) for what they do online.”

Above all, Strausbaugh said, parents mustn’t be afraid to have a frank conversation with their children about both the positive and negative sides to the online world, and to remind them that whatever they do or say online has the potential to be seen by everyone.

“It’s like living in a glass house – everything is visible to someone,” he said. “Character counts online, just like it does in school. You want to be known as a good digital citizen.”