TeenPhones

Kids can easily become victims, or criminals, if parents aren't regularly monitoring their smartphones. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

Follow your kids on social media.

Examine their smartphones to see what they’ve been sending and receiving. Every day.

Install tracking apps on their phones so you can watch where they are. All the time.

Make sure they know that if they disobey you, you’re taking away their most prized possession: that phone.

That stern parenting advice from Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott might make even helicopter parents squeamish. Too intrusive. Too disrespectful of children’s privacy.

But today’s hyper-connected kids face dangers that are far different than those previous generations faced.

There have always been predators, but they weren’t always lurking just a click away in chat rooms, disguising their age and their intentions in ways people can’t when we see them face-to-face.

There have always been hate groups, but they weren’t always able to use sophisticated algorithms to lure unsuspecting readers from innocent games and searches into ever darker innuendo, conspiracy theories and fabrications that can subtly undermine the values parents have worked so hard to instill in them.

As Mr. Lott told The Post and Courier’s Seanna Adcox after high-profile back-to-back arrests in a prostitution sting and violent racist videos involving children, kids don’t realize the ramifications of texting, chatting or posting personal information or thoughts. (The same is true of a lot of adults, but that’s a different matter.)

Kids are “very gullible and very trusting, so you have to be suspicious for them,” he said. “You do that by knowing what they’re doing, where they’re going, who their friends are, all that stuff.”

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The sheriff is probably a lot more jaded than most parents, dealing as he does every day with the worst of society. But his recommendations — drawn from his relationship with his own 16-year-old daughter — are so important that they need to be repeated. And followed. Not just to protect kids from becoming victims, but also to protect them from becoming perpetrators.

“The majority of times when we have a juvenile who’s done something wrong, the typical answer (from parents) is, ‘I had no clue. I didn’t know,’” he said. “And my answer is, ‘You should have known.’”

Mr. Lott said it was a watchful mother whose vigilance led to this summer’s arrest of a 16-year-old student at Columbia’s Cardinal Newman School who made videos in which he fired 30 rounds of ammunition into a box of sneakers that he said represented “a black” man — at one point saying “our n----- hasn’t quite learned his lesson yet; it seems like he needs 25 rounds to the dome.”

The woman discovered those videos on her child’s phone the day the boy sent them to friends. She immediately alerted school administrators, who called the sheriff’s office. Such vague threats aren’t crimes under S.C. law, but school officials were able to notify his parents within a day. And within four days, investigators were able to find an earlier video in which the boy threatened to shoot up the school, which is a crime, and arrest him.

“She took action with her own child to address what her child had (received) and didn’t report,” Mr. Lott said. “That’s a learning opportunity now. When you see stuff like that and know it’s not right, you’ve got to tell somebody.”

Parents need to teach that rule to their children. And not just parents but all of us need to follow it ourselves.