Don’t be a friend, be a parent

By CHRIS GEORGE / Guest Columnist

I don’t think any parent would disagree that their child is their greatest investment and most important asset.

Being a parent carries an amount of love that no friend can duplicate. In today’s world, being a parent also means knowing what the friends may know or at least know how to access that information.

It seems that gone are the days of knowing every child and their parent by name. All of this came to life for me last week when my 7-year-old son said he was “chatting” with a girl on his Nintendo DS. I had no idea this was even possible. The chat was nothing more than jokes and “I spy” games, but it certainly woke me up that I am behind in the game of life where that is concerned.

What I do know: A child living in your home has absolutely no right to privacy.

That includes their room, their car and especially phones and social media. We must be that shield between those that prey on the innocent and our children.

Just as you would not let your child touch a hot stovetop, you should protect them against questionable behavior online or with texting. If they use any type of computer (iPad, smartphones, laptops, etc.), you must know the passwords to your child’s Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr or any other social outlet they use.

Ask your child if they know their Facebook “friends” and have them tell you about them and if they’ve ever met. Odds are, many of these “friends” are friends of other friends who may not follow the same rules you’ve set forth in your home and may be a bad influence.

Another growing issue, especially with teens, is “sexting.” This has gone past dirty notes passed in school or even the more innocent, “Do you love me, check yes or no.”

This issue now involves smart phones and children taking pictures of themselves unclothed and sending it to a boyfriend or girlfriend. Once that happens, two crimes have been committed: Possession of child pornography and dissemination of child pornography.

Both of those crimes are a felony; one potential consequence is forced registration as a sex offender. Law enforcement often learns of these crimes by a third party who received it in a text and didn’t want to see it, or the original person who never thought their “friend” would send it out to everyone.

This type behavior also leads to bullying or mocking someone for how they look. If you feel your child must have a phone, monitor the texts and pictures that come in daily. Once again, there is no expectation of privacy here.

Just as we held our children’s hands as they learned to walk up and down stairs, we must continue to be there to protect them from the world and that means being a parent, not a friend.

Capt. Chris George is a commander with the Criminal Investigations Division of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office.