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Local mother warns about tech dangers

July 4, 2018 GMT

Crista Miller is on a mission to help other parents avoid a nightmare.

The Fort Wayne woman started Giving Teens Grace, a nonprofit that wants to educate families about the dangerous side of technology, and advocate for families and teens who have fallen victim to online predators, cyberbullying or human trafficking.

Growing up in the era of tough love, Miller realizes that there are enough stresses in children’s lives today that can produce anxiety and depression. Her goal is not to throw discipline out the window, but to teach families how to “bridge the gap in societal norms caused by technology.”

Miller became passionate about her mission after her daughter was taken in by what she describes as the dark side of technology.

“Our daughter reached out for a ride through Snapchat and fell into a close call situation with human traffickers,” said Miller, who protects her daughter’s identity to aid in her recovery.

“What I want to tell parents is even the most well-behaved child can become a victim.”

Predators, she said, “groom” their victims in ways that make them appear to be a friend. Grooming is a process of befriending and gaining the trust of a youth, and possibly the family with the intent of taking sexual advantage of the youth. Miller said predators begin to target youth about 11 years old. The average age for a teen being lured into human trafficking is 15.

Miller said statistics show 27 percent of youth have had some kind of physical contact with a stranger they met online.

While introverted children known to be submissive, cohesive and cooperative are favored targets for sexual predators, extroverted children who seek attention can also become victims.

“There is just no typical profile. Every child is potentially vulnerable,” said Miller, who recently spent a week in Florida with Human Trafficking Coalition of the Palm Beaches receiving training and collecting materials to use for programs.

The nonprofit received 501(c)3 status in January 2018.

The organization’s name, Giving Teens Grace, came to Miller when considering what teens need most to overcome the pitfalls of 21st-century life.

“We believe that all teens deserve grace ... to make mistakes, and a soft place to fall when they do,” Miller said.

Giving Teens Grace has programs for schools, churches and other organizations bringing parents and children together in conversation to talk about the prudent use of technology.

“We know this is a dark subject,” Miller said, “so we work hard to broach this heavy topic with a bit of comedic relief, keeping it safe for youth as young as fourth grade.”

Part of the organization’s programming helps parents identify ways to monitor their child’s use of technology and apps that can be dangerous for youngsters of various ages.

Miller recommends the website CommonSenseMedia.org for articles helpful to parents.

Their school programs help young teens and high schoolers tackle the realities of their everyday lives in ways that Miller describes as “eye-opening and mind-changing.”

According to information provided by Giving Teens Grace, the average teen in 1995 watched about two and a half hours of television per day.

By 2016, the average teen was spending about 7.5 hours a day on a computer or telephone screen.

Because teens post photos of themselves, use their real names and post their interests, they are particularly vulnerable to online predators and bullies.