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Keeping teens safe

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What’s the biggest change affecting teen behavior in 1982 vs. 2012?

Cell phones and the Internet, of course. It’s a simple answer with not-so-simple ramifications.

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At a safe environment presentation Wednesday, Feb. 12, at St. Alice Catholic Church in Pequot Lakes for youths from the Catholic churches in Pine River, Pequot Lakes and Nisswa, Pequot Lakes High School Principal Chip Rankin talked about teen behavior and peer pressure.

He started his presentation by pulling out his cell phone, handing it to a teen and asking everyone to pass their cell phones around.

“How comfortable do you feel doing that?” he asked.

Rankin said everyone should feel very comfortable sharing his or her cell phone. If there’s something on a phone a person can’t share, it shouldn’t be on there.

“There shouldn’t be a kid in here 18 and under whose parent can’t access your account,” Rankin said.

Not long ago, students weren’t allowed to have cell phones in classrooms.

“Now, today, we encourage you to use it every hour of every day,” Rankin said. “But we try to teach you the right way to use it.”

He shared many statistics regarding teen brains and how teens are prone to take risks. He addressed Internet use and social networking, explaining the trouble kids can get into by sharing information and photos online or by text. He cited inappropriate photos, cruelty and meanness.

“Fast forward and you’re applying to get into grad school. Do you think people don’t Google you?” Rankin asked. “Those comments and pictures are out there forever.

“A simple picture you take tonight. You don’t know where it will be tomorrow,” he said, urging students to be careful about what they put out there.

“If you take a picture, you have to assume your grandma will see every one of them,” Rankin said. “Once you take this picture it’s gone. It’s out of your control.”

While many parents are up to speed on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, Rankin cited four apps parents should know about: ask.fm, Whisper, Vine and Tinder.

“If you see any of these on your kids’ devices, it’s time to have a talk,” he said.

Those apps tend toward bullying, sexual discussions and other inappropriate and/or violent content. Rankin also talked about cyberbullying and cyberstalking.

Pequot Lakes Police Chief Eric Klang said he once posed as a 14-year-old girl online and within six minutes he had a 25-year-old interested who drove from St. Cloud to meet up.

Rankin talked about incidents at Pequot Lakes High School, including an incident last year where people created a fake Twitter account that rated things in school, like the best teacher, least favorite teacher, ugliest, most attractive, etc.

“It caused a major stir,” he said. “I got calls from the Brainerd principal, the Pine River-Backus principal, the Crosby principal.”

Throughout the presentation, Rankin reiterated the importance of choosing the right friends and being able to turn to those friends in times of need.

“Who’s in your circle?” he asked. “Who do you need to keep in that circle? Who do you need to leave that circle?

“Be careful about the risks you take that might have long-term effects,” he said.

Nancy Vogt can be reached at nancy.vogt@pineandlakes.com. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter @PEJ_Nancy.

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