Katherine Koestner, Keeping Your Child Safe
The Parents Council of Washington hosted its Fall Orientation on October 4, 2011 at the National Cathedral School. The event featured Katherine Koestner, the Executive Director of Campus Outreach Services, as the Kick-Off Speaker.
Joan Levy, Vice President of the Parents Council of Washington, welcomed the more than 70 Representatives and Parents Association Presidents of the PCW member schools to the first program of the 2011-2012 school year. She introduced Kathleen O’Neill Jamieson, the Head of School at NCS, and thanked her for hosting this informative program. Ms. Levy also discussed the important role of the PCW Representatives and their various responsibilities supporting the many programs held by the PCW throughout the year.
The Past President of the PCW, Betsy Mandel, presented an overview of the Webinar Series that will be offered this year. The PCW will sponsor this highly regarded monthly program for all of the parent communities, as well as the teachers and staff members of our PCW member schools. Kristin Huffman, a fellow PCW Board member, gave a live presentation of the registration and login process via the Dragonfly learning.com site. All of the Webinars will be archived and available through June 2012. Representatives were encouraged to publicize the schedule of Webinars within their school communities and to watch the Webinars either live or at a later date from the archives. The PCW Representatives were asked to not share the Webinar Registration code outside of their school’s parent community.
Joan Levy introduced the PCW Kick-Off Speaker, Katherine Koestner, who gave her presentation on the important topic of “Keeping Your Child Safe: From Cyber Bullying to Date Rape.” Ms. Koestner is a national expert on student safety and wellness issues and the Executive Director of Campus Outreach Services. Her organization produces the Webinar Series that is offered by the PCW. At the age of 18, Ms. Koestner was the victim of a crime that led to her interest in technology and the subject of sexual misconduct. Because of her background and expertise, she has now travelled extensively to speak with high school and college students in order to share her experiences. She noted that even with texting, instant messaging and online posting, relationships have not changed dramatically, but there is a new dimension to them because of the role of technology and the prevalence of online communications.
Ms. Koestner began her presentation with a survey of the audience, asking “How technologically savvy are you and your kids on a scale of 1 to 10?” She asked each person to raise their hand based on which category best represented their personal level of knowledge and access to technology.
For a scale of 1 to 3 she asked – Do you have email? A cell phone? Does your cell phone take photos? Do you have basic computer skills? Do you have a Facebook page? A newsfeed? Do you have a LinkedIn profile?
For a scale of 4 to 6 – Do you know how to upload photos? Do you use Flickr? Do you use your phone to take video? Do you send this video out? Do you have 1 to 2 terabytes on your network? Do you share video online? Do you pay bills online? Do you have a PayPal account or shop on eBay? Do your children have cell phones? Do you have GPS applications on your children’s phones? Have you considered a GPS for your child’s car? Do you program cell phones to limit texting?
For a scale of 7 to 9 – Have your children gamed to the highest levels? Do your children have PayPal accounts? Have your children “hacked” your accounts? Have your children accessed your neighbors’ accounts because they were able to easily identify their passwords? Do your children stream illegal data and store it on their Xbox rather than on a computer so that you are not able to locate it. Have your children “hacked” Gmail accounts in order to store data? Have they “hacked” their school’s storage space and sold it online?
And finally for a scale of 10 – Did you invent the Internet?
Ms. Koestner gave several dramatic examples of the challenges facing parents as they make every effort to protect their children from situations that place them or their families in jeopardy. By sharing the details of each specific case, she illustrated the risks to our children due to the complexities of managing their use of rapidly changing technology.
Have you ever had a slumber party at your home? Do you take away the cell phones and digital devices that have video capabilities? Did you ever think one of your guests could take video of the interior of your home to include televisions, artwork, security panels, jewelry, etc. for later use in order to rob your home? This has happened.
There is a video of a boy re-enacting a scene he had seen in a movie where the main action hero swings a light saber. The young man leaves the personal video up on a school computer. Other students see the video and then make edits and repost it on the Internet. The other students mock him. Many of the viewers then comment on the video and ridicule the boy. He then discovers what has happened and eventually becomes depressed and attempts suicide. The original three students who uploaded the video are sued by the young man’s family for $250,000 for causing him emotional distress. As a result of cases such as this one, insurance companies are now offering electronic content riders to cover these types of lawsuits.
Ms. Koestner asked the audience, “Do your kids know how to NOT respond immediately?” She added, “They need to pause before they respond to something online. Stop – don’t hit send before thinking it through.”
“Camera Phones” –
Recently in Cambridge, Massachusetts an 18 year-old boy and a girl are together. The 18 year-old boy asked the girl to “flash him” and allow him to take her photo. The young girl repeatedly replies no. Finally after many request, she agrees as long as he promised not to show the photo to anyone. With her permission, he takes a photo of her with his cell phone. By the time she arrives back at her dorm, the 18 year-old boy has downloaded the photo and sent it out to all the printers on her dorm floor. Ms. Koestner asked the audience, “Who got punished?” The answer was “Only the boy who took the photo.”
In order to provide a context for these situational examples, Katherine Koestner presented three important definitions to the Parents Council audience.
First – Sexual Harassment – if you send a picture to students that can be considered sexual harassment.
Second – Sexual Exploitation – taking sexual advantage of others for gain of self or others at a detriment to one.
Third – Expectation of Privacy – Anywhere that someone assumes they have privacy. It is not legal to place cameras in places such as dorm rooms, locker rooms or bathrooms.
Another case occurred in Philadelphia at a college dorm that has rooms with floor to ceiling glass windows. An 18 year-old girl has a boy visit her in her dorm room and they have sexual relations in front of the window. Another boy is walking on the street below and looks up to see the couple and decides to take photos. He then uploads these photos to the Internet. Ms. Koestner asks the PCW audience, “Who gets charged?” The answer is the girl is charged with lewd behavior in public. However, had the girl been a minor, the boy who took the photographs would have been charged. The distinction is made because the 18 year-old girl is technically of age and since the young man taking the photos was in a public place, what he did was legal.
In Florida parents of a high school senior host a party for 200 friends in the lower level of their home. Alcohol is served and all car keys are taken from the guests to insure that no one who has been drinking will drive while intoxicated. Two of the girls attending the party start to “make out” with one another. A boy attending the party decides to join them in a threesome. Another boy observes this and takes a video of the threesome and later downloads the video and sends it out to all of his friends. One of his friends who received the video is the son of the District Attorney, who then happens to see the video. The District Attorney investigates the incident and discovers that the two girls are 13 and 14 years of age. The boy who engaged in the sexual behavior with the two girls is then charged with statutory sexual assault. Subsequently, the parents of the two girls also see the video. As a result, the boy who took the video is charged with distribution of child pornography. Ms. Koestner explained that had the threesome occurred in a closed bedroom, there would have been the “expectation of privacy.” Lastly, the parents who hosted the party in their home were sued for serving alcohol to minors.
In New Jersey a ninth grade boy and girl meet and date each other all throughout high school. They believe that theirs is a lasting relationship and that they will be together forever. During their senior year in high school, the girl applies for a $140,000 college scholarship and is selected for the final round of interviews. The boy and girl are together on a date on Valentine’s Day. He wants to take a naked photo of her and promises to keep it private. The young girl reluctantly agrees to his request. She is subsequently awarded the scholarship and enrolls in a prestigious college. At a later date, the boy is in the cafeteria and leaves his phone on the table. A group of friends look at his cell phone’s photos and find the photo of the naked girl and email it to all of his contacts. The photo is traced to the girl and she eventually loses the scholarship because she lied during the interviews about her character and integrity. In addition, the photo is considered to be child pornography. After describing this incident, Ms. Koestner remarked, “Teach your child to say, If you really loved me you would not ask to take that photo.”
Ms. Koestner began the next topic of her presentation by asking the Parents Council audience, “How ‘wired’ are your sons and daughters?” The average age of when a child first views pornography is three years old! This often occurs because of a misspelled word in an Internet search. Pornography is accessible on sites such as Chat Roulette. Further, when is it appropriate for our children to share their personal information online? We are constantly telling our children not to include their personal information when they are on the Internet. However, this allows them to not take ownership of what they do online. Ms. Koestner believes that our children need to truly take ownership of what they do online. They need to develop a stronger sense of self, because if you do not reveal any of your personal information, then you can be anonymous and therefore post, type or download anything.
She stressed that Dot.coms want our children to be online as much as possible. The greater the amount of time online, the more revenue can be generated through electronic advertising. Ms. Koestner reminded us that every time you move around a site or click on an item, someone is watching and recording that information. It has been documented that children spend more time online when their parents are at work or asleep than when they are with their parents. Predators know this fact. She recommended that we teach our children to use one consistent screen name that is known to the parents. This chosen screen name should not be too revealing, but should be one that the child identifies with and most importantly, feels accountable to for his or her actions online under this personal screen name. An average ninth grader spends three hours each day communicating online. By the time they graduate from high school, the average teenager has listened to 10,500 hours of music online. In fact, children from the ages of two to seven spend on the average 19 hours and 40 minutes each week watching something on a computer screen.
“The Dangers of the Online World – Video Technology; Social Networking and Picture Rating Sites; Cyber Stalking; Free Speech and Privacy; Pornography; Bullying and Harassment Online; Video Games; and Online Communications” –
To begin the next topic of her presentation, Ms. Koestner stated that any websites that end in .com are in fact not free. Some entity is paying for that bandwidth and as a result, they are tracking your movements on their site, documenting the content of what you view and then selling that information to others.
Ms. Koestner asked an interesting question “Has your school talked to its students about media literacy and intellectual privacy?” MIT enacted a policy ten years ago that states that they own everything a student does during the time that student is enrolled at their institution. Ms. Koestner suggested that we should not assume that we have trust and privacy online. Someone is always watching your activities online. It is important to remind our children that colleges and job recruiters can readily access the materials that our children have posted online, even if the student has removed that information. In fact, universities such as Notre Dame and Northwestern pay to have background searches conducted on students who are eligible for athletic scholarships. These universities take this action to make certain that the perspective students do not have Internet histories of drinking alcohol or using illegal drugs.
It is important that our students truly understand that anything you ever post on Facebook or MySpace is their property. Ms. Koestner recommended that we review their usage agreements very carefully. She stressed that information is the currency of the future and anything is available for a price. There are programs such as spokeo.com that allow you to purchase anyone’s online history. Through these vendors you can view the complete history of all of the websites that a student has accessed. This has created a new market for programs such as reputation.com that are available to clean up your “digital dirt” and can even take positive information about you on the web and place it in the forefront of any searches someone might be conducting about you.
Ms. Koestner thanked the Parents Council for inviting her to speak at the Fall Orientation. She is excited about our ongoing sponsorship of the Webinar Series for all of the member schools of the Parents Council of Washington.