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Sunday Mornings with Rania: Why Your Child Should Post Like a Celebrity

Rania Mankarious
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Sunday Mornings with RaniaThere’s no other word to describe what happened other than horrifying. She woke up to him standing over her in her bedroom, naked. It was roughly 2:45 a.m. on Aug. 30 and her parents were sleeping just down the hallway. She’s only 13 years old. 

Terrified, she began screaming, sending Johnathan Ward, 21, down the hall and out the door of the family’s Fontana, Calif. home. 

How Did They Get There?

Reports later confirmed that Ward, who lived just a few miles away from the child, had been stalking her on Instagram. He spent time following her posts, her activities and affiliation with a local dance studio and pieced her life together – including where she lived. On this fateful night, surveillance footage showed him outside the family home, looking straight at the cameras where he put his finger to his mouth and did a “shhh” motion. He then opened an unlocked door and gained entry, going straight to the young girls’ room.

This wasn’t his first offense. Ward had a history of following his prey online and using their own posts to piece their lives and locations together.

The Easiest of Targets

“There is never a scenario in which a victim of a crime is guilty of doing anything wrong.” President and CEO at PPI Security, Tony Leal, shared these words with us last week at a Crime Stoppers of Houston’s women’s luncheon. He went to say on that even with that in mind, we must do everything we can to take proactive measures to keep ourselves from becoming victims of crime. Leal was a Texas Ranger for over 26 years, retiring as the chief. And I couldn’t have agreed more with his words.

Every single day, the team at Crime Stoppers goes from school to school talking to children about the reality and the doors they open through their social media postings. What happened to this 13-year-old in Calif. should never ever have happened. And yet, right now, she is one of hundreds of thousands of tweens/teens being followed and stalked online.

The Reality and a Response

It’s time for a shift in our conversation with our children:

  • We get it. We know that children are going to be online. 
  • A Reality Check. With that in mind, we’ll share stories like this one with them in an age-appropriate manner (keep in mind, there are details from this story I left out of this post)
  • Non-negotiables. Understanding the dangers, remind kids that they must turn location services off when snapping photos and sharing as well as when using all their social media platforms, always. I have gone as far as to say if the platform requires your location services to be on, then it’s not a platform we’re allowed to use.
  • The Art of Taking Photos. Beyond the lighting and capturing your best side, let’s talk about the art of taking photos.

-Never take a photo outside your home where a home number or identifying factor is visible.
-If you’re inside your home, try to not picture interiors of doors or windows which show a potential stalker/predator exactly where the locks are or what kind they are inside the home (and ultimately, how to get around them).
-If taking a photo at school, try not to share what school you’re in.
-Same with work or while you’re with your dance team, sports team, etc. I know that’s hard but try.

  • Where you can’t help it. There are scenarios where you can’t help but post and expose a part of your real life – your football team or cheerleading team is winning games or awards and you want to share it. It’s great! But think of this: while kids may not initially accept a request from a stranger, they will absolutely accept a request from a stranger who seems connected to others the child knows. Predators know this too. It follows then that they will absolutely invest the time studying and connecting with their prey’s teammates and even family members to gain access to the target. They understand the online behaviors of children, maybe even more than a child’s parents. How does this apply exactly? You post a photo of your team and what it’s affiliated with. A predator will spend the time connecting with all the other members to breakdown your fear of ultimately connecting with you, their target (just like in the Calif. case). In this case, we urge team coaches to have a special meeting about safe posting – reminding the players that they have become local celebrities and will draw the attention of many. It’s okay to post but maybe the team can pledge to post safely, accepting only requests from people they really do know.
  • Think of Celebrity and Stardom. I’m now urging tweens and teens to think of themselves as little celebrities and to emulate the posting habits of the celebrities they love. Yes, I said that…. Think about it this way, celebrities NEVER share where they live or where their home offices are or any information that gives you any inroads to reach them. Their location services are off and they do everything possible to make it impossible for you to find them. Sure, they share post after post and story after story but look at how they post. We’re seeing their meals, parties, concerts and movie sets, makeup application, workouts, etc., but there isn’t one post that opens the door to their private worlds. Even thinking of reality stars who do invite you into their homes, they have only done so after a team of attorneys have used their “celebrity” status to legally remove their names and home addresses from all public records. Additionally, they live in ultra-private neighborhoods and still hire teams of private security to surround their homes and follows them when they are out and about. Sure, they accept requests from anyone and everyone. These people are brands that must build their brand equity. While most of us cannot add as many layers of security and privacy as celebrities, we can learn from their posts and what and how they do and don’t post.

We live in a new world. As my friend and colleague says, when we post on the internet, the “WWW” stands for the “world wide web” – we’re opening up our lives to the world and inviting the world in as well. Social media follows the same way. Our children are smart enough to really start understanding this as long as we address the topic honestly and fairly. For their sake and ours, it’s a topic we need to do repeatedly.

Predators will hate you for it.

For more information on Crime Stoppers of Houston, go to crime-stoppers.org and follow Crime Stoppers on Facebook. Have topics in mind that you’d like Rania to write about? Email her directly at rmankarious@crime-stoppers.org. Connect with Rania on Instagram and Twitter. Read past Sundays with Rania posts here.

Editor's Note: Views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of The Buzz Magazines.

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