“I was taking kids from school to the hospital, because they were talking about wanting to kill themselves. And then the parents would show up and have no clue what’s going on.”
After 16 years in law enforcement, working at 18 different Southern California schools, with more than 14 thousand students, Sergeant Clayton Cranford knew he needed to do more to educate parents and protect these kids.
“Parents are then asking, ‘What do I do now?’ Their entire world has really changed. That’s a scary place. I don’t want parents to find themselves there,” said Cranford.
So he created the Cyber Safety Cop program and began teaching parents and kids, from real life experiences, the value of protecting students from the digital world. Why just the digital world, you ask?
“The majority of [the student] encounters were dealing with online safety issues, victims of cyberbullying, victims of sexual exploitation, victims of any kind of online threat… and what I discovered was that most of the parents didn’t know what was going on.”
But the hardest part about watching the students he worked with suffer, was knowing something could have been done to prevent the terror these victims were facing.
“I was having these same conversations over and over and over with these parents. It was the same story, the same issues, and the majority of issues could have been prevented if the parents were more engaged with their children’s digital world.”
So how do you start? He suggests to start at the beginning, learn how to have a conversation with your child about their digital device use.
“Parents like me didn’t grow up in a world with social media and so they just really don’t know where to go with that conversation.”
You’ve probably heard of digital contracts or smartphone contracts. He says that’s a great place to start. Cranford has even created his own free downloadable version. He recommends parents sit down with their kids and go through it, line by line, learning together. This mutual agreement helps set expectations and creates an excellent springboard for conversation and questions from you and from your teen.
Next is creating accountability and teaching discipline.
“The number one common denominator for every child that I investigated, as a victim of online abuse: they had unmonitored, unfiltered internet or social media,” said Cranford.
This is where he says apps like WebSafety come into play and create an environment where kids are more responsible in their online activities.
“If students know that a parent is filtering and supervising what’s going on, they’re more likely to be introspective about the things that they’re posting. And that’s called discipline. Without accountability, you can’t have discipline. Discipline is the right action based on rules and conditions.”
He said, without a doubt, the parents who were aware of what was happening in their kid’s online life or social media accounts, were always able to address the issues before they would blow up. And if the parents weren’t watching what their kids were doing online, it was likely they would never find out, until it was too late.
“When kids are suffering because they’re being bullied, or they’re a victim of sexual exploitation, they don’t feel safe telling anyone, because they think they’re going to get in trouble. They don’t want their phone to be taken away and so they just kind of deal with it. And that’s a grinding down, traumatic process that can lead children to consider committing suicide and withdraw from healthy relationships and healthy activities in their lives.”
WebSafety is pleased to welcome Sergeant Clayton Cranford, the Cyber Safety Cop, to our team of experts and advocates who are determined to help families prevent these problems or intervene early enough to save lives. Not only has he devoted his life to educating families, but he is constantly fighting this battle in his own home with his two teenage sons.
“I’m in the same boat,” he told us and says he tells every parent. “Everything that I advocate for parents to do, I’m doing it, as well, on my own.”
That’s why he feels confident assuring parents that no amount of teenage resistance or rebellion is worth the risk of leaving your kids up to their own devices.
“You’re going to get pushback from your kid. But you understand what the potential problems are. You, as a parent, have to be okay with the potential consequences, if you don’t do it.”