Event to teach parents dangers of social media


By Rachel Madison

Liberty Hill Independent School District parents are invited to attend a Parent Empowerment event April 19, which is centered around keeping kids who use social media and technology safe.

The event, titled “Keeping Your Kids Safe: Social Media’s Impact on Our Youth,” will be held at 5:30 p.m. at Liberty Hill High School’s Performing Arts Center and is being hosted by the school district, the Liberty Hill Chamber of Commerce, The Liberty Hill Independent and the Liberty Hill Police Department. The event is free to the community.

Jennifer Haines, student support services counselor for LHISD, said the event was planned to give parents information and tools they can use to help keep their children safe, whether they’re on the Internet, texting or using various social media apps.

“We want parents to be more aware of some of the dangers out there and things they should be looking for,” she said. “We’re bringing in [a few speakers] who have a lot of expertise in this area and who have experience on different sides of it. We will also have handouts with information that parents can have, and we’ll have some [refreshments]. Our speakers will each have presentations, but [following their presentations] it will be more of a forum aspect, where parents can ask questions.”

The speakers at the event will be Amy Callaway, outreach coordinator for the Williamson County Children’s Advocacy Center; Kimberly Bustos, LHPD reserve officer, private investigator and former employee of the Texas Attorney General, where she served as a captain and Internet Crimes Against Children commander; and Steve McIntosh, a retired sergeant from the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office in Centennial, Colo., where he worked with the Internet Crimes Against Children task force among other duties.

Callaway has been with the Williamson County Children’s Advocacy Center since 2012 and since the beginning of her career, has interviewed over 1,200 children. She is currently responsible for teaching “Recognizing and Reporting Child Protection” out in the community to schools, child care centers, religious organizations, community organizations and parks and recreation departments. She also recently wrote the curriculum for a training video for first responders.

During the Parent Empowerment event, Callaway will talk about the current apps that children and teens are downloading and using, what the apps do, and why they are dangerous. She will also talk about grooming, and how offenders operate as they select their victims and try to gain their trust. Callaway will also explore other ways offenders communicate with children via the Internet, and she will offer suggestions of how to keep children safe as they explore technology.

In addition to serving as an LHPD reserve officer and running her own private investigations business, Bustos also has more than 20 years experience as a Texas Peace Officer. She has spoken at over 75 conferences during her career on Internet Crimes Against Children, which includes online solicitation and cyberbullying. Bustos is also a Texas Commission on Law Enforcement instructor and has taught many police officers how to investigate these types of offenses.

At the event, Bustos will be talking about the impacts of cyberbullying, warning signs, how to intervene and who to go to for help.

“The type of impact cyberbullying can leave on a child can be devastating,” she said. “Learning how to identify the signs can make a difference. It’s important for parents to understand and know what to do in cyberbullying situations. It can literally mean the difference between life and death.”

After 27 years of working for the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office, McIntosh retired to Liberty Hill. During his time at the sheriff’s office, besides working with the Internet Crimes Against Children task force, he also worked as an investigations sergeant, patrol sergeant and detentions sergeant. In addition, he was a first responder at both the Columbine High School shooting in 1999 and the Arapahoe High School shooting in 2013.

At the event, McIntosh will utilize his background in law enforcement to answer parents’ questions about threats on the Internet and help them understand what kids are facing.

“It’s difficult to stay on top of the Internet with your kids these days,” he said. “It’s hard to know everything that’s out there and to stay ahead of it. We used to do Internet stings and I was shocked at things kids fell for. They are things that kids should know better about. Teens out there surfing or playing video games are not aware of threats around the corner.”

Haines added that at the event, the speakers will also be talking about David’s Law, ways kids find to get around their parents and security settings, ways kids hide apps they’re using, and overall safety online.

“This event is for parents of kids of all age ranges,” she added. “As soon as children start getting on the Internet and playing games and start using phones, they are being exposed. Technology is a great tool when it’s used correctly, but even children that are just trying to do homework or play games sometimes don’t realize what they’re getting into when an ad pops up or something like that. Some apps seem very harmless, but they are great places for mischief to take place.”

This is not the first Parent Empowerment event the school district has hosted, Haines said. Last school year, the high school put on two “town hall” style meetings for parents that focused on underage drinking and substance abuse. Earlier this school year, the district’s student support services department held another event that focused specifically on cyberbullying. This upcoming event will be an extension of that event and provide even more tools and information, Haines added.

“Now we’re teaming up with the Chamber, police department, the schools and the newspaper to target a broader audience and bring more people in and have more of a concentrated effort,” Haines said. “We plan for this to be a series of events, so if parents come and have specific questions about other topics, we’d love to bring in other speakers about those topics as well.”

Haines said the district put together this event on social media safety to be proactive with parents.

“We already teach cyber safety within our technology classes, but now we’re trying to give parents the tools they need to really understand what’s going on [with technology] and what their children will be exposed to,” she said. “We’re trying to be ahead of the curve on what’s out there. It seems to be a growing need, and there are more and more things that could potentially go wrong as kids are getting more tech savvy.”