Are your children safe?

By Brooke Curley

THATCHER – Parents struggle daily to provide their children with what is best, but sometimes Gila Valley residents wonder just how safe their children really are.

Stories of individuals being followed through local stores, while a stranger takes photos of their children circulate monthly, and fear of child kidnapping is rampant. Thatcher Police Chief Shaffen Woods told Gila Valley Central that he has seen parents’ Facebook posts about how their children were followed in stores while strangers took photos of them. However, according to Woods, although unnerving, these unwanted photos are not illegal.

“As a parent myself I can see why some people would be concerned. However, it is not per se illegal to take pictures of people in public places,” Woods said. “I would suggest that if this happens to you, and you’re not happy with it, you can always ask the person why they are taking your pictures and ask them to delete them or just leave the area. The police can respond and investigate it for you if you like as well.”

When addressing the issue of local child kidnapping and sex trafficking, Woods had a reassuring answer, yet stressed alertness. Woods urges parents to keep track of where their children are at all times, and be aware of their surroundings.

“As far as the dangers of child trafficking, it is a problem in the United States, but I am unaware of any cases in the last 18 years of my career that have occurred in the local area. In fact, I don’t know of a single stranger danger type of child abduction that has happened here in a very long time. That being said, that doesn’t mean it can’t or won’t happen,” Woods said. “The best thing parents can do to keep themselves and their family safe are being aware of their surroundings. Pay attention to who your child is with, where they are, where they go and what they are doing.”

Although these words might be comforting to some, Woods had a message of caution to local parents regarding photos of another kind. While a kidnapping case involving a complete stranger has not happened in over a decade, local children have been hurt in other ways and through an unsuspecting avenue: The Internet.

“A lot of kids are more proficient with this technology than their parents. You need to learn it and be able to see what your kids are doing online. One of the biggest dangers that I have seen are those who use these types of systems to contact or influence children. Online gaming systems can be used to have interaction with children as well as social media,” Woods said. “Educate your child about sending images on the Internet. Once it’s out there it’s not coming back. We do have cases locally where children send pornographic images over the Internet, snap chat etc and then they get distributed. Child porn is child porn in the eyes of the law, but often children do not know the laws or what’s illegal. They can easily find themselves a victim of a suspect in a child porn case if they get involved in this type of activity.”

Woods told Gila Valley Central that apps such as Facebook and Instagram allow adult individuals to track local children. Although an individual isn’t following a child through the store, they could be tracking every single update, Facebook post, and review your child makes.

“You need to monitor their activity. Many parents would be shocked to know how many thousand followers some (children) have,” Woods said. “Giving random strangers access to your personal information can be dangerous. Children are often unaware, and are easy targets for people who prey on children.”
Aside from the ever-present danger of the Internet in the background, with summer coming into full swing, Woods cautioned parents to be wary of childhood drowning. He also said that although seat belts might not be in the forefront of what many parents might see as a life or death decision, he stressed their importance.

“Today is a difficult time to be a parent but parents need to be aware and on top of what their kids are doing to best keep them safe. Additionally, the normal dangers of young children around water is always important to mention. Drowning can be prevented in most cases,” Woods said. “The odds of your child being hurt in a traffic accident is far greater if they are not properly restrained in a vehicle than not. Additionally, traffic collisions are far more common than child abductions, especially in our area.”

Online Safety Tips

Do not allow your child to have a computer with Internet access in their bedroom or any
area that is private. Move it into the family room or someplace where you can easily see
the activity.

Set time restraints. Do not allow your child to spend hour after hour online.
Check history and consider installing tracking software as well as parental controls. If your
child is “wiping” the history every time, then you should find out why.

Spend time with your child online. This does so many things including giving you quality
time with your child. Explore together!

Teach your kids that when they come across any material that makes them feel
uncomfortable, scared, or confused to immediately tell you or another trusted adult.
Teach your kids to never open emails from people they do not know in person.

Teach kids to never reveal any personal information and to immediately tell you or a trusted
adult if someone ever makes them feel uncomfortable or starts communicating in a sexually
explicit manner.

On social networks like Facebook, make sure the privacy settings are on to limit contact to
only those on your child’s “friends” list and those should be people the child actually knows
in person.

Make sure your child understands that anything that gets posted online will always be out
there and can NEVER be completely deleted. A suggestive picture to a boyfriend could end
up anywhere and everywhere. All pictures should be cleared by you before posting.

Make sure your child understands that he or she should, under no circumstances, ever
meet in person someone they met online without you being present.