Dozens of parents from the community gathered to hear from leaders in the area who spoke about how to teach children to navigate social media and the internet in a safe way.
Among them was Bridget Keylor, mother of Kelso, 13, and Kohen, 11, who attend Conway Christian Schools.
The informational safety class featured Faulkner County Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Carol Crews, Conway Police Department Detective Brian Williams, Faulkner County Circuit Judge Troy Braswell and Kristina Carnes, the community educator from the Arkansas Attorney General’s office.
Keylor said she and her husband, Josh, know that while neither of their sons currently have phones or devices, they accept that will come soon. She said when that time comes, they want to be educated and Monday night’s session helped with that.
Keylor said as a parent, she recognizes the generational gap between how she grew up compared to her sons, who are smothered by technology.
She said each speaker did a great job educating attendees on how to be proactive parents, engaged in their kid’s social media presence and what could happen if things are taken too far, including Williams, who focused on how important it is to be on top of what children are doing online.
“Everyone in this room has already taken the first and most important step in protecting your children online and that’s being here,” Williams said. “Being involved with your kids, being involved with what they’re doing, protects them more than anything I can tell you.”
He said he has a unique perspective on the topic because he is the person called when children in Conway receive explicit photos and texts from strangers — he does that for a living — but that he also has a 14-year-old daughter.
“I see what parents are doing and not doing,” Williams said.
When it comes down to it, he said, parents want to know where they went wrong and Williams said it’s about being involved and being proactive.
He said more than 90 percent of teens are online using social media applications, which are constantly updating and changing, and the chance of them running into someone they don’t know on one is high. The only way to fully prevent that from happening is to not give them phones, he said.
“That risk is always going to be there,” Williams said.
After he got his daughter her phone at 9 years old, he said he struggled with how to monitor her interactions and whether he wanted to secretly comb through it or teach her to be more responsible user by holding her accountable to her face.
“We just have an open dialogue about it and I think that just works better all the way around,” Williams said.
He said there are tools out there to assist parents in the process and include apps that notify them of every social encounter, call, text message, etc. and others that keep kids from deleting something they downloaded in secret and tracking apps to monitor where teens are at.
When dealing with parental controls, Williams said smart phones have a lot that can be manipulated and locked down to protect the user.
“Kids these days are up against more problems than we [were],” he said. “The good thing is though, in this county, this district, we have [a] really good system here.”
Williams said the CPD, prosecutor’s office, juvenile judge and others are trying to reduce the problems but “it’s a nonstop fight.”
Crews said it’s important for parents to be aware of what’s out there and while Conway is a wonderful place to live and raise a family. It’s crucial to know what could happen including internet stalking of a child with purpose of sexual contact, which she said she sees all the time in her profession.
“I’ve got 30 of those cases in my office right now, just in Faulkner County,” she said.
Crews said preventative measures are key: being aware of who children are talking to, especially those they know, and not ignoring the content of those conversations because she said she’s prosecuted teachers, softball coaches and more that are ones kids trust.
Braswell said the issue he sees in the courtroom is the breakdown of communication and sharing of information as a family unit.
“Your kids need you to be strong, they need you to be a parent,” he said. “I am sick and tired of parents coming into court who want to be friends.”
Keylor said as a mom, it’s heartbreaking when a child comes home and asks to join the social media world and she says no, but overall, more heartbreaking to know the world they’re up against when that time comes.
She said it was sobering to learn how proactive and vigilant parents need to be and kept thinking about how thankful she was that there were so many community leaders out there are fighting for her kids too.