When Pinellas County sheriff's Deputy Tom Kelley talks to parents about their children using social media, one piece of advice stands out: Don't stay on the sidelines.
"We tell them to be involved with their kids and go online. Ask, see what apps they have on their phone," Kelley says. "We're trying to teach parents to be involved, look at what's on their phones, and then ask them and communicate."
Kelley's traveling education program, "Social Media & Your Kids," began last week at Countryside High and continues with two sessions — Monday at Morgan Fitzgerald Middle and next week at Boca Ciega High.
The program educates parents of students age 12 to 17 about the latest social networking sites, types of monitoring software and techniques for talking to kids about such matters. Kelley distributes a "parent's toolbox," a brochure that lists websites on how to report cyberbullying, outlines of text lingo, and articles from educators and psychologists.
Kelley, a sheriff's deputy since 2006, focuses on community education. His programs involve visiting neighborhoods and schools to educate the public on local concerns, including social media safety.
In addition to addressing parents' concerns, Kelley's talks reach students at the county's high schools and middle schools.
"They want to be connected with their friends and stay current with everything that's happening," he said. "So we tell them that it's okay to stay connected, build your pages, have your profiles and blog and stuff, but make sure you're being a responsible person online."
He said his biggest concerns are the sharing of nude photographs and harassment. "Those photos could end up being copied and posted anywhere," Kelley said. "Something you could think 'Oh, I'm just going to send this one picture of myself' could end up being copied and then pasted on someone else's page, and then you have no control of if it gets taken down."
Kelley has taught courses about Internet safety to educate parents about online predators. He used those courses to help develop his current program on social media.
He counsels parents to keep up with trends on the Internet and not to get comfortable with just monitoring Facebook.
"He was able to give us updates on media formats besides the typical Facebook you hear about," said Kristina Bauman, an assistant principal at Madeira Beach Fundamental School who attended the first session at Countryside High.
Kelley said he sees "the light turn on" after discussions as parents begin to question if they communicate to their children about life online.
"Everything kind of changes at a very rapid pace," he said. "There's a lot of ways for kids to connect to people, but there's a lot of ways for people to connect to your kids."