Homer Police Lt. Ryan Browning provides ‘youth and technology’ presentation Saturday Feb. 4 at Homer High School in Homer, Alaska. Photo provided by Christopher Kincaid.

Homer Police Lt. Ryan Browning provides ‘youth and technology’ presentation Saturday Feb. 4 at Homer High School in Homer, Alaska. Photo provided by Christopher Kincaid.

Social media harms targeted in community meetings

Homer police visiting Central Peninsula to open dialogue about “Parenting in the Digital Age”

This week, Homer Police Lt. Ryan Browning will be bringing his “Parenting in the Digital Age” presentation to Nikiski, Soldotna and Kenai, with the goal of opening “honest and raw dialogue” about what kids are seeing and going through online or on social media.

Browning said “Parenting in the Digital Age” came from investigations of sexual exploitation and mental illness in Homer, which were tied to social media.

Community members and parents were commenting on Homer Police Department’s Facebook page, he said. The community wanted to know what the Homer Police was doing to prevent those incidents, and parents were wondering if they really knew who their children talk to online.

The department has seen an increasing number of cases involving online sexting and bullying, he said.

So, Browning said, he spent weeks gathering information from the state, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other professional entities like the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Browning said he wanted to have tough conversations with parents and “rip the Band-Aid off.”

Browning said his talk isn’t a technical “how-to.” He doesn’t know every app or piece of software available to today’s kids. Instead, he says it’s about teaching core behaviors and values that can provide direction in any online setting.

“It comes down to ‘are we having these conversations with our kids honestly and openly and often?’” he said. “My only goal is to get parents to talk to their kids. To take those deep, heavy breaths, sit down at home and start that conversation.”

Browning said he covers how kids and parents are accessing the internet, what they’re accessing, and how to recognize certain functions including virtual reality or live chat. He talks about cyberbullying, sexting, sex casting and sextortion. Parents need to understand how the internet works — “everything is stored on a server somewhere.”

He identified Snapchat and Instagram as particularly problematic apps.

Parents tell Browning they have things locked down, that they know exactly what their kids are doing, he said. But kids are “crafty,” he said.

Another misconception that Browning said he’s heard from local folks is “it doesn’t happen.”

“Yes, this stuff actually does happen,” Browning said.

“Parenting in the Digital Age” has been put on a few times already by the department in Homer. Browning said he’s had parents call him and tell him what they’ve found in their children’s phones. He said he’s had young women who have already left high school call and tell him they went through harm without help in a time where no one was having the conversation.

“People don’t know what this is doing to our kids — who are telling us that they’re hurting,” Browning said.

Browning will be taking “Parenting in the Digital Age” to the rest of the Kenai Peninsula and then expanding to some appearances around the state. On Thursday, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., he will be at Nikiski Middle/High School. On Saturday, he’ll speak at Soldotna High School from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Next week, on March 29, Browning will present at Kenai Central High School from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

On April 1, Browning will be in North Pole, and on April 7, he’ll speak in Sitka. Browning said he’s delivering the presentation to the House Judiciary Committee on April 10.

“It’s a message that parents have got to hear, and got to start talking to their kids about,” he said. “It’s that important.”

For more information about the Homer Police Department and “Parenting in the Digital Age,” visit facebook.com/homerakpolice.

Reach reporter Jake Dye at jacob.dye@peninsulaclarion.com.

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