Teen Twitter talk leads to 3 arrests, warnings to monitor kids' hashtag habits

Published: Sunday, Feb. 17 2013 3:55 p.m. MST

It isn't just a matter of protecting a child's personal information, officials warn. It's also a matter of a child being too personal with the information they knowingly put out for public consumption.

The Deseret News looked at several Twitter pages purporting to belong to local middle school students. None of the accounts had any privacy settings. While the majority talked about typical teen topics such as relationships, sports, homework and parents, others tweeted more risque conversations as if they were talking to just one person in private.

In one conversation, a teen girl who claimed to be a middle school student tweeted: "Lets smoke before school tomorrow," followed by, "I'll pitch 10 and you should pitch 10. My brother will hook it up fat." Later, the girl tweeted, "Lets just do a 10 sack. I'll pitch 5 you pitch 5." Another teen used the hashtag "#legalizeweed" in their profile description.

Some of the Twitter feeds these teens subscribe to include Weed Tweets, Dank Tweets and Horny Facts, giving them daily messages about drugs and sex.

Juveniles are going to make mistakes and mess up just like their parents did, Jones said. But in today's world, the biggest problem for parents is catching their kids and staying on top of constantly evolving technology. In the world of social media, she said there's a saying that's there's something new every eight weeks.

Teens aren't just on Facebook and Twitter, but other mediums such as SnapChat,  Instagram, Foursquare and Chat Roulette.

The Empowering Parents Project posted an article on its website, "Parents, Get a Clue: What Teens Are Really Doing Online." The article noted: "What teens don’t often realize is that what gets posted on the Internet, stays on the Internet."

What teens need to realize is that in today's business world, many companies and recruiters search the Internet history of applicants. What may seem like a fun posting today, could come back to haunt them in later years.

The online world for a teen is "very much about confessing, talking about personal things to an invisible audience,'" said Anastasia Goodstein, author of “Totally Wired: What Teens and Tweens are Really Doing Online.”

A 2009 study suggested that one out of every five teens in America has tried sexting — the sending of sexually explicit photos, text messages or emails through cellphones or other devices. A 2010 study by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and reposted by the FBI, found that 20 percent of teens had posted nude or semi-nude pictures of themselves, including 11 percent of teen girls ages 13 and 16.

A 2008 study concluded that 41 percent of U.S. teens between 13 and 17 years old believe their parents have no idea what they are looking at online.

Teens will use the age-old adage that they need privacy, Jones said. And they will argue that they need a phone to let their parents know where they'll be after school and when they're coming home. All are legitimate reasons to have a phone, Jones said. But she also noted, "The same tools you give them to keep them safe can be misused as they explore.

"Parents have got to stay current on tricks and how to hide things," Jones said. "If kids won't let you see their phone, that's a problem. It's the same as real life. (Parents) need to know who their kids are hanging out with. They need to talk about what's in bounds and out of bounds with them. Technology can move so fast. We were all teens once in life. We know they'll push boundaries. Social media can make it that much easier and dangerous."

E-mail: preavy@desnews.com, Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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