Pennsylvania is taking action to Keep Kids Safe.

A campaign by the state Department of Human Services is raising awareness to issues affecting our youth. Today, we're talking about cyber security and safety on social networks.

About 95% of Americans have a cell phone, and many admit to checking their phone several times a day, whether it be for email, social media, or another cell phone app.

On average, teens touch their phones 80 times a day. Amy Hamilton, a Psychologist at Liberty Family Practice in Erie, says it is affecting their mental health, “We’re seeing a rise in depression, anxiety, and difficulty sleeping, difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, over the course of time because they're so worried or thinking about what's the next step on the cell phone or what did I miss?”

So, because our children are spending so much time on their phones and online on social media, parents need to be sure they’re staying safe. .

One local parent, Kara Lee June, explains how she limits her children’s use of technology to try to keep them safe, “Our kids’ phones have time limits built in. The phone shuts off between 8pm-8am, and they leave for school at 6:45am, so it is guaranteed they can’t use them in the morning. Also, after 6 hours of use, so on the weekends they can’t be on them all day. And all activity and downloads are emailed to us weekly, so we can see what sites they visit, their Google searches and any apps they use.”

Hamilton says when it comes to cyber security, June has the right idea. Parents need to come up with limits and guidelines, “No matter what age a parent decides is right for their child to have a cell phone, I think there has to be rules and boundaries around cell phone usage,” said Hamilton.
Hamilton advises to designate cell phone time, by turning off electronics a specific time, “At 8:00 at night it's shut off or put on charger, or during mealtime, dinnertime, when it's family time, homework time, put on the charger, put it up.”

Marci-Marie Powers, another local parent, says she understands children need access to technology, but parents need to step up and pay attention to the websites they frequent, “They (children) may need phones at times and the Internet. They need taught which sites are real and which sites are just for fun. They do need time limits to get away from everyone and everything. but some sites, even as an adult can get twisted and warped minded after reading some stuff (online), so again, maturity is a must and to be taught is also a must,” said Powers.

For kids, there are many dangerous threats online. Statistics show, on average, children aged five to 16, spend six and a half hours a day in front of a screen, exposing them to all sorts of dangers online and while gaming or on gaming consoles, like PlayStation.

Patty Pouline, director of Safe Kids Erie, says parents need to be aware of those specific dangers while gaming, “They can interact with adults pretending to be children, and reach out and have an interaction that really goes awry,” said Pouline. “You have to allow for the theory that people are hiding behind names that might not be children, and might be adults poising as children” Pouline continued.

Pouline suggests writing a “contract” with your child, to help keep the lines of communication and understanding open, “You can have contracts. There's contracts available between parents and a child that say, ‘Here’s what we want you to do, and we want you to sign a paper that says you won’t do these things, you won’t go on any adult sites, you won’t go on any sites that you're not supposed to be on,’” Pouline suggested.

Bottom line, experts, and even other parents suggest taking a pro-active approach to their child's online safety.

Hamilton also says parents should consider encouraging family activities like game night, or social outings like bowling, times where a cell phone or gaming isn't even desired.

The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services is dedicated to keeping kids safe and keeping people accountable. If you suspect a child is being abused or neglected, call the ChildLine at 1-800-932-0313 to report it. For further information and resources, visit the Keep Kids Safe website.