Homer Police Lt. Ryan Browning will host two presentations for parents this month on the hazards technology and social media use pose to youth.
The presentations are an effort to bring increased awareness to parents in the Kenai Peninsula Borough and encourage them to be more involved.
The idea for the presentations came about after the Homer Police Department posted on Facebook about young man who had been arrested for enticing young women to send pictures of themselves to him.
“It got a lot of comments and got people talking about what our young people are doing and what parents know and don’t know about whether or not they are behaving safely and appropriately,” Browning said.
The presentation includes information from professional organizations such as the Pew Research Center, Netsmartz, the Institute for Responsible Online and Cell Phone Communication, the National Crime Prevention Council and others.
“What I try to do is explain that this is behavior that is happening in Homer. I have news articles from the past 10 years telling how many sex assault cases we’ve encountered and how many kids are assault victims in these cases,” Browning said.
“Then, I try to provide some tips for parents for what they can do to improve communication with their kids and improve behavior and safe and responsible attitudes toward technology from an early age.”
For example, he explains what kind of personal details need to be kept separate from shared online information.
The two online instant image sources Browning and colleagues see the most issues with are Instagram and Snapchat. In his presentations he will provide an overview of those applications, the settings and safety features that parents or other supervisors should be aware of.
“A lot of parents don’t know that kids can get up to five accounts on Instagram with one email and some of the third-party monitoring software will give you information on one account but not all of what child might have access to,” Browning said.
Also included in the presentation will be bullying, suicide and depression rates in the state pulled from the Alaska Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) sponsored by the Alaska Department of Health.
The survey collects information about the health of Alaska teens, including health risk behaviors that contribute to social problems, disabilities and death with the aim of helping school districts and schools, communities and public and private organizations understand and meet the needs of Alaska teens.
Alaska students take the survey every other year in odd-numbered years in public traditional and alternative high schools. Student participation in the survey is anonymous, voluntary, and requires written parental consent.
In the most recent survey results, what caught Browning’s attention was the high result of confirmed sexually active teenagers at 36% of respondents.
Another feature discussed will be child pornography laws in the State of Alaska and how residents under the age of 18 may contribute to the creation of pornography without being aware of legal ramifications.
“Parents need to know more about this. It’s shocking,” he said, noting that the presentation will also cover the dangers of “sexting.”
Browning said bullying is also an issue youth face and noted that 59% percent of respondents to the YRBS reported some feature of cyber-bullying, name calling and “just spreading false rumors,” Browning said.
Browning said what was most shocking to him in recent YRBS is that almost 50% of girls reported they were so depressed that it influenced their behavior in the past two weeks of what they “normally” do. Thirty-three expressed consideration of suicide and 27% had a plan in place, he said.
“Mom and Dad need to know that,” he said.
Browning said he hopes to get the families involved and emphasized the importance of getting kids “unplugged.”
”The point I want to hit on the most is not letting your kids go to bed with a cellphone or other device because they won’t turn it off and it’s important for us to enforce closure time,” he said.
Prior to COVID, Browning provided “watered down” presentations to High School health classes mostly focused on the negative components of “sexting” and child pornography laws. Now, he is focused on the role and influence parents and other guardians can have more directly.
Browning will provide a presentation on Thursday Feb. 16 at 7 p.m. in the Mariner Theater during the Parent Teacher Extravaganza event happening in Homer High School Commons and on Feb. 24 at 7 p.m. at Homer Middle School.
These events are for adults only.
There will also be presentations in the Central Peninsula at the end of the month. Events are not filmed or streamed because Browning said he wants conversations to have privacy.
Emilie Springer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.