Police share internet safety tips as students head back to school

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - As more students step back into classrooms, the Colorado Springs Police Department is sharing tips that parents should keep in mind to keep their kids safe online.

11 News spoke with a police sergeant who is part of the department’s Internet Crimes Against Children unit. He asked to stay anonymous because he works undercover.

The sergeant said the biggest thing kids should be careful of is what information they share online. He suggests not posting anything that could give people clues about where you live or what school you attend.

It’s also important to make sure parents know who their kids are interacting with on the internet, he said.

“They should have that set up with their child to say, ‘You can be friends with people online as long as I approve of them’ -- as the parent -- and that the child really knows them face to face,” the sergeant said.

The police department also recommends parents have their children sign a digital contract so they understand the responsibility that comes with having a phone and laptop. The contract should set parameters about how to use the device and when and where the child can use the technology.

“It’s important that it opens the dialogue between the parent and the child to say, ‘Yeah, there’s going to be stuff out there that is scary, and this is how we deal with it,’” the police sergeant said.

The department’s ICAC team says parents can put software and apps on their children’s devices to track what sites they visit, but they won’t be able to track everything.

“They could still have access to other areas of the digital world: a friend’s phone, perhaps, that may not have the same tracking software,” the sergeant said. “So it’s important to teach your kids how to be safe online … so they are armed with all those tools going out into the digital world, which can be just as scary as the real world. We talk a lot about stranger danger. That applies 100 percent to the digital world as well.”

The police department said parents should look out for any online conversation a student is having where the other person is trying to meet the child. Other red flags include if the person the child is speaking with online is trying to turn the child against their parents.

The ICAC team said it doesn’t have a list of websites or apps that parents should be cautious of because predators can find children on any site.

“Any application that has any kind of communication feature or chat feature, there’s going to be that opportunity for some kind of inappropriate relationship to develop,” the police sergeant said. “If we were to announce specific apps, say ‘be on the lookout for these apps,’ in two weeks, there’s going to be more that we haven’t even heard of that could have that feature.”

That’s why it’s so important for parents to start the conversation with their children, so the kids know what to be aware of and know that they can go to their parents if something ever happens online.

“The technology is out there,” the sergeant said. “So even if you do put restrictions on there, they may have access somewhere else. So having that good education, good foundation from the beginning is key.”

There are more online safety tips and resources for parents on Colorado’s ICAC website. People who think a child is being exploited can submit a tip here.