Darren Doyle, story and photo
Officer Bob Couchman, a member of the Madisonville Police Department, Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, and the U.S. Secret Service, gave a hard-hitting presentation to a small crowd last night at ECHS on the dangers of social media and internet predators.
Couchman went through a list of popular smart device apps that children are using, most of which compromises personal information and can lead to dangerous outcomes.
"Your kids are savvy enough to stay out in front of you," Couchman said to parents in attendance. "They might be good kids, but they're not perfect. I wasn't a perfect kid, and neither were you. Most times, if there's a way to sneak around something, kids will find it and that's where the door opens for some very bad things."
Couchman focused on several apps that are popular with today's kids and how easy it was for them to not only see and experience inappropriate material, but become victims as well. Some of the apps he advised parents to keep away from children were:
Couchman said that while not all users abuse the apps, young people are obsessed with sharing too many details of their personal lives along with personal info in app profiles that they don't even think about, like their address, phone numbers, email addresses, and social app usernames used in other apps.
Couchman used one particular Facebook profile of an anonymous female teenager. Through a few swipes of a phone, he had the ability to steal her photos, found her personal information, where she went to church, known friends and family, and even found a street view of her home. One of the reasons that he said his teenage children were not social media users.
"Parents think that it can't happen to their child, but it can," Couchman said.
He stressed that while it's likely that most teens will continue using social media, it's imperative for parents to stay involved with their smartphone activity.
"In my house, there are no passwords," Couchman said. "If I find something on one of their phones that's locked me out, forcing me to use a password, I take a hammer, smash the device into small pieces and place what's left in a ziploc bag," he said. "I'm the parent, it's my job to know what my kids are doing, same as it's your job to know yours."
One staff member said, "Some parents don't want to hear this stuff because they're using these apps themselves. They don't want their kids to stop because they think it's popular."
Couchman quickly nodded his head in agreement. "It's sad how many parents are trying to live vicariously through their children," he said.
Several parents, faculty, and school staff members asked detailed questions and were amazed by some of Officer Couchman's answers.
Sheriff Shane Doyle said his office deals with dozens of cases each year involving students from ECHS and ECMS that have been involved with inappropriate use of some of the apps, sending and receiving sexually explicit material, and either being a victim or a suspect in cyber-bullying.
"Most people have no idea what our School Resource Officer Jeff Brooks deals with on a regular basis," Doyle said. "The amount of inappropriate material that is shared between our own kids right here would shock you."
ECHS Principal Tommy Hodges applauded Officer Couchman's presentation and hopes to have him return.
"I thought it was amazing, even shocking," said Principal Hodges. "It's my personal feeling that every single parent that has a child with a cell phone should experience this and see what their son or daughter can potentially do with that phone. It blows my mind. I almost wish we just go back to flip phones where we just talk and text, with very little texting. Of course, in this technology age, smart phones are something we'll continue to deal with and some of these things will only get worse."
Hodges said he was very disappointed with the low attendance to the free event.
"I feel like this this needs to be priority to the parents of high school students. I'm not saying their children are guilty of some of these things, but they need to be aware of what could happen. It's a reminder of the importance of monitoring what their children do."
The event was coordinated by Edmonson County Supervisor of Federal and State Programs, Jamie Carnes, and his efforts were praised by Hodges.
"He did a great job putting this together. He worked hard with you guys in the media and a one-call was made to parents in our school system so people should've known about it. My feeling is, if you missed this, when we get Officer Couchman back, we need to fill up this place. Our parents need to see what I saw tonight."