School district, parents tackle technology

There's something that 500 million people around the world have in common: Facebook.

During a presentation at Laguna Beach High School on Monday, school district officials and parents discussed the ramifications of social networking, cyberbullying and sexting.

In the course of one day, it's safe to say that an American teenager will access a social networking site. They'll update their Facebook status, tweet about their day, post a photo on Flickr or leave some comments on a YouTube video.

Unlike past generations that passed a note to a classmate or got in fights in the lunch room, the online world is becoming the virtual playground for kids and the ramifications are very different.

"You become a content creator whether you like it or not," district Director of Technology Victor Guthrie said to about 40 parents. "Everything we do is online forever and there are unintended consequences."

Some consequences include jail time for child pornography if a student is found circulating inappropriate photographs of another student, said LBHS Assistant Principal Bob Billinger.

When it comes to social media and monitoring, the biggest advice faculty gave was to be as hands-on as possible.

Kids are smart. They know when to delete their web browser history or a bad text. They put passwords on their technology on purpose. Parents need to take control of this, school officials said.

Laguna Beach Unified School District has a number of contracts available, which they recommend parents have their kids sign in an effort to monitor their usage.

Thurston Middle School Principal Joanne Culverhouse recommended that parents charge their children's phones in their bedrooms so they don't have access late at night. Most incidents of cyberbullying happen late at night, by girls and during a sleepover.

Culverhouse said to set aside time daily to visit all their social networking accounts.

However, a Google search might prove startling results, as it did for one mom.

Karin Riches was Googling a recent girls' sporting event when she came upon Google profiles of fifth- and sixth-graders she and her daughter knew from Top of the World Elementary School and Thurston. She clicked profiles of girls she recognized and found public profiles, complete with personal information, a Google map pinpointing their location along with archived chats, buddy lists and a photo gallery including a picture of one of the girls in a bikini.

Riches was shocked to find the Google profile to be completely accessible and worried about the ramifications of other children that create similar profiles.

"Parents might say don't go on Facebook but there are these websites that are even less protected than Facebook," she said.

"This is the hardest arena I have dealt with," school board member Jan Vickers said about monitoring her own children.

Vickers added that after taking away her son's Internet access, she found him on MySpace on his iPod. He picked up roaming Wi-Fi in the neighborhood. She also called off the sleepovers.

"You have to be prepared for the raging tantrums," she said.

Culverhouse said that it is hard to discipline when it comes to technology but their dependency on it can ensure change.

"Removing texting is like removing their right arm," she said with a laugh.

For parents who didn't attend, here are the three rules to follow: be consistent, check all social media and make a contract.

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