WATCH NOW: Kenosha Police officer’s presentation empowers parents to talk with their kids about internet safety | Education

Barbie Espinol

PLEASANT PRAIRIE – When it comes to the internet, parents who consistently communicate with their kids while engaging, guiding and monitoring them can help to keep them safe.

Talking to children and knowing what they’re getting themselves into is the best way to prevent many of the dangers they can encounter in the virtual world, according to Kenosha Police Officer Tyler Cochran.

Cochran is part of the department’s community safety team and known to many as “Officer Friendly.” Each year, he teaches more than 10,000 Kenosha Unified students on safety topics that include everything from bikes to protecting against strangers. He said 90 percent of all fourth- and fifth-graders have cellphones. However, when he asks them about whether their parents monitor their activities, he hears an alarming trend.

“Maybe half, less than half,” said Cochran, who led an hour-long presentation on internet safety for parents at Pleasant Prairie Elementary on Thursday. It was sponsored by the district’s Community School Relations Office and was the first in-person family activity night for the elementary in two years.

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At a conference he heard a presenter ask, “Would you ever let your child go into their room with an adult magazine?” “Of course you wouldn’t do that,” Cochran said. “What are we doing with the phone, though? It’s way worse than that. Here’s the phone. And now they’re in their bedrooms by themselves. There’s just so much out there that we have to be aware of.”

Changing technology

Cochran realizes “as parents it’s nearly impossible for us to keep up with all this technology.”

Apps, such as the popular Snapchat, for instance, don’t safeguard against younger kids using it (13 is the minimum age) and a user simply scrolls through a calendar and can virtually fake their age. Snapchats, or photos sent, also disappear after all recipients have viewed them and are also designed to be deleted after 30 days if unopened. However, not everything disappears, as users can take screenshots or photos of photos.

“And they can get spread around. Especially, at the fifth-grade to middle school level, we’re seeing a lot of that happening,” he said.

Mapping systems on social media networks also have kids tracking each other, said Cochran.

“So they’re using it to kind of see where all their friends are,” he said, referring to an app called Snap Map, which can monitor their speed, such as when they’re traveling in a car. “And that can get in the hands of everybody showing their location.”

According to Cochran, such apps have been used in the county by people who have stalked others.

“It’s very important that if your child is using this stuff to make sure you’re having them turn that off,” he said. “They shouldn’t be sharing (their location) with anyone else other than you. You’re the only ones that should know where they’re at.”

Facebook “for old people”

No longer is Facebook the dominant social media network among kids.

“They laugh and they say that’s just for old people,” said Cochran.

Instead, most are using TikTok, a video-share app that allows the user to create 15-second videos, and is the most popular used worldwide. By the end of 2021, 656 million users downloaded the app, followed by Instagram (545 million), Facebook (416 million), WhatsApp (395 million), Telegram (329 million), Snapchat (327 million), Zoom (300 million), Messenger (268 million), CapCut (255 million) and Spotify (203 million), according to Apptopia, which tracks the apps’ marketing performance.

Cochran said that apps aren’t all bad and he’s even found some tips recorded on TikTok to be useful – like a wall stud finder. But apps like TikTok monitor online behavior, creating a virtual “For You” page to personalize the user’s interests. For parents, that should raise concerns, especially if kids are engaging in, with intent or unwittingly, inappropriate content.

“If your child has TikTok, be monitoring that,” he said. “So, if you’re seeing your child on TikTok and it’s stuff that’s very inappropriate, there’s a very, very good chance that your kid is looking at things they shouldn’t be when you’re not around.”

Open communication

The most important thing is for parents to keep lines of communication open with their children.

“The big thing I want to make sure everyone realizes is to be able to have this dialogue with your kids,” he said.

Cochran said keeping kids safe on the internet doesn’t have to mean prohibiting all use if they make a mistake, either.

“I don’t necessarily recommend if something goes wrong like that just taking it away and saying `You’re never getting YouTube again, because they’re going to find other ways to get it, whether it be through a friends device … whatever it might be they’re going to find ways,” he said. “(Have it so) they know they can come to you.”

Among red flags he said parents can look for in kids who use the internet is whether they’re physically healthy or losing sleep; still connecting socially with family and friends; engaging and achieving at school; continuing to pursue hobbies and interests “in any form,” and still having fun while learning through digital media.

Cochran said parents must realize that the reality is “our kids are going to be on this.”

“So we have to find a way so we can have that balance,” he said.

Parents with additional questions on internet safety can contact Cochran at 262-653-4210 or by email at [email protected].

For more information on digital media safety and education go to, which has a breakdown of age-appropriate internet and media topics that parents can discuss with their children.

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