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12-year-old admits ‘swatting’ Kutcher, Bieber. Parents, Google your kid

12-year-old admits ‘swatting' Ashton Kutcher and Justin Bieber: The new Internet generation prank leads a mom to talk to an Internet forensic detective for advice in avoiding this with her own kids. His advice? Google your kid regularly.

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“It’s as simple as Googling your child’s name to see where he or she has accounts that may be beyond your current knowledge such as YouTube, multiple social media accounts, and especially Google Voice,” Loftin advised me in a phone interview this morning. Google Voice is a publicly available free feature that allows you to set up multiple accounts and make calls that appear to come from different area codes than the one you live in. 

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Lisa Suhay, who has four sons at home in Norfolk, Va., is a children’s book author and founder of the Norfolk (Va.) Initiative for Chess Excellence (NICE) , a nonprofit organization serving at-risk youth via mentoring and teaching the game of chess for critical thinking and life strategies.

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“Parents need to go back and sit down with their kids and explain the consequences, but they also have to do some research of their own and know what accounts their children have,” Loftin said. “If they don’t understand how to do this kind or research then call me and I’ll walk them through it.” 

I explained to the good detective that the Internet’s a big place and his phone would be ringing, but he wasn’t daunted by that. Although he was careful with his information, “People can contact you and you can put them through to me.” Oh good, now I’m Batmom. 

Loftin has been a great resource to me personally as I recently coped with members of a hate group that was targeting me online in response to a blog I wrote for Modern Parenthood. Today, as Loftin headed to the office to file his retirement papers he took one more call to help us all understand how kids are inspired to commit these potentially deadly felonies and what we can do as parents to protect our kids and potential victims. 

“I blame the show Crank Yankers for really giving rise to this entire resurgence of prank calling,” Loftin says. “Kids listen to that on the radio, and then other DJs started doing prank calls on the air. Kids think that since the DJ can get away with it on the air that it’s not a crime.” 

Because parents of pre-teens and teens may feel the tug of social bonds shearing off on a daily basis, we can fall into the parent trap of trying to be our child’s buddy and not their parent. 

“It’s good to be a friend to your child, but it’s also important to establish who’s in charge and to continue to keep those lines of communication open with them,” Loftin said. “Just taking away computer time won’t cut it anymore with smart phones, computer access at schools, libraries, and at friends’ homes.” Also, demanding a kid give you his password doesn’t do much when, as Loftin pointed out, “A kid like the one in the Kutcher case probably has multiple accounts and passwords so it’s nothing to throw one to you. He may have a dummy account where he posts perfectly acceptable comments. Google your child’s name and be amazed at the accounts they have you don’t know about.”

In many cases, those accounts may be perfectly innocent and clean, but the detective told me that in those cases a parent still needs to know where an underage child is online in order to protect the child’s information and the family.

Loftin told me, “I know this is not just parenthood 101 we’re talking about anymore. It’s a modern world and this is modern parenthood for sure.” 


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