Parents encouraged to talk with kids about internet safety: ‘It’s hard to keep up’

By Mike Sullivan, WBZ-TV

RAYNHAM – A teenager from Raynham is back with her family after being missing for nine days. Her family thinks she may have been attracted to someone online.

Colleen Weaver, 16, was found in New York City with the help of the FBI, NYPD and Raynham Police. She left her house without a phone, clothes or money. Her friends and family say they found her computer with several social media apps still open.

“We were afraid right away that she might have been attracted, and with each passing day we were more and more convinced without her having a word,” says Heather McNally, a friend of the Weavers’ family, “As of now, the parents have confirmed that she is safe.”

McNally could not say if the teenager was found in New York with anyone. She said the police are still investigating.

Weaver’s disappearance sparked a huge social media campaign to find her. This led to several wakes, including one just before she was found. McNally said this situation shows a real dichotomy of the internet: its power of positivity as well as its dark side.

“You can look at a situation and say, ‘Wow, the power of the internet! The power of social media! It gives people a voice that they wouldn’t necessarily have had.’ At the same time, we wouldn’t have needed this if social media hadn’t existed,” McNally explained.

“It’s hard to keep up with the rapid pace at which these apps are being created,” added Andrew Rossow, an internet lawyer. “You have the real world and your online world merging into one. It’s hard to separate them from each other.”

Rossow suggests parents have a conversation with their kids about which apps they use and why. He says the “why” is key to understanding the purpose of the app and whether or not there is a chance a child is preparing for a dangerous situation.

“You want to have that trusting relationship where the kid doesn’t feel like they have to rebel and hide and act,” Rossow said. “Talking to your child, not to him or her, asking questions as a parent that you may not understand about the platform.”

Rossow said the internet is becoming more decentralized as users and content creators want more privacy and control over what they post. This can lead to less monitoring by these platforms, allowing predators or hackers to take advantage of a situation. It can also be easy for a teenager to bypass any age verification request to use an app or program that they may not be mature enough to use. This can open the door to a predator who can learn a lot about your child just by the information they put in their profile or the places they shoot videos from.

“There are templates always available depending on the content that’s being streamed,” Rossow said. “I just need to know enough to convince you as a potential victim that I share this passion or this problem for you to let your guard down and say, ‘I can tell someone about this. “”

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