For as much as they help bring people closer together, social network websites such as Facebook and MySpace can also expose children to many kinds of trouble — even when they aren’t looking for it.
A need for parental Internet savvy and vigilance was the message of “Sex, Drugs and Social Networking,” a public forum held Tuesday at Verdugo Hills Hospital’s Community Room by the Crescenta Valley Drug & Alcohol Prevention Coalition.
“Sex and drugs are not something that kids need to go and search for. It’s what our kids get bombarded with. It comes to them,” Glendale Police Sgt. Tom Lorenz, the event’s featured speaker, told an audience of more than 30 local parents and coalition members.
When Internet traffic was dominated by search engines such as Google, children had to know what to search for in order to find it online. In the age of social network sites, kids are confronted with information that’s posted or shared by others in their network — “not by design, but by accident,” said Lorenz, a father of six.
These chance negative influences often include detailed information about the use of over-the-counter or designer drugs that are unfamiliar to parents but within easy reach of young people. Sharing of sexual content, whether generated by peers or reposted from other sources, also is a frequent problem, according to the group.
La Crescenta resident Bedig Jabourian, a father of two, said he became interested in the forum after intervening to stop a daughter’s elementary school classmate from posting sexually explicit content to Facebook.
“We’re trying to find a balance between [prohibiting online use] and letting them have a Facebook page but keeping an eye on it,” he said.
Lorenz recommends that parents monitor their children’s activity by monitoring social network accounts, regulating Internet access on mobile devices and setting Google alerts for their kids’ names and nicknames.
Parents also should visit sites such as www.urbandictionary.com to familiarize themselves with youth slang — especially drug-related terms such as “Skittles” (narcotic pills), “Triple C” (Coriciden Cold and Cough medicine, which contains the disassociative drug dextromethorphan), “K2” (an herbal smoking mix of herbs and spices with synthetic THC sprayed onto it) and “Purple Drank” (codeine/promethazine cough syrup mixed with a soft drink).
The coalition holds regular parent gatherings during the school year and also offers grant-funded counseling sessions for teens involved in drug and alcohol abuse, said Kim Beattie, a coalition board member and director of development for the YMCA of the Foothills.
“A lot of parents shy away when they hear it’s a drug and alcohol coalition because they think, ‘My kid doesn’t have a problem.’ But kids are surrounded by it,” said Susan Dubin, also a board member.
For information about coalition programs, call (818) 248-4957.