As the world becomes more technologically advanced, so too are the potential threats those technologies can pose to children. In an effort to educate parents about those risks, the Milford Parents Advisory Council held an informational meeting March 15 on Internet safety and the growing prevalence of cyber-bullying.
As the world becomes more technologically advanced, so too are the potential threats those technologies can pose to children.
In an effort to educate parents about those risks, the Milford Parents Advisory Council held an informational meeting March 15 on Internet safety and the growing prevalence of cyber-bullying.
“We did a presentation on suicide prevention recently and during that meeting we heard a lot of concern brought by parents regarding Internet safety and cyber-bullying,” MPAC President Jennifer Hallman said. “Obviously, it’s a concern on parents’ minds so we wanted to help provide some information and tools.”
Milford Police Officer Joey Melvin, the school resources officer for the Milford School District, said he spends several hours each day investigating reports of cyber-bullying.
“Honestly, cases of cyber-bullying are starting to outnumber they physical bullying you might be used to hearing about,” he said. “It’s something I deal with on a daily basis and it’s definitely a problem. The only way to combat it is through parental involvement.”
Examples of cyber-bullying include cruel messages sent via cell phone, rumors transmitted via texts, the theft of personal account information, pretending to be another student online and the distribution of unflattering photographs of classmates, he said before adding that those acts can result in criminal charges such as harassment, terroristic threatening and conspiracy.
He urged parents to contact a school administrator; teacher, counselor or their school resource officer if they suspect their child is the victim of cyber-bullying.
“A lot of it happens outside of school, but if it affects the school climate — if a child feels threatened at school or it interferes with their ability to receive an education — we can discipline for that,” he said. “Parents don’t always like it, but we are empowered to take action even if the cyber-bullying takes place off of school grounds.”
Randy Reynolds, a former Milford Middle School teacher and the current education liaison at the Delaware Department of Technology and Information, talked to parents about other dangers children can encounter on the Internet and things parents can do to avoid them.
He warned that most students don’t realize when they are divulging personal information and don’t always understand the consequences.
“It’s not like a predator says, ‘I’m a 45-year-old male sex offender living in Kentucky,’” he said. “Instead, they will pretend to be a peer of a child, get some empathy going and then gradually start asking questions, like, ‘What’s your school mascot?’ and ‘How’s the weather?’ Kids don’t realize how that information can be used to determine their location.”
Reynolds also discussed the dangers to children found on popular social media sites like Facebook, as well as some of the ways those sites can be abused.
“The default privacy setting on Facebook is public, which means that everything you post is automatically out there for people to see,” he said. “I tell people the first thing they need to do, is go to Facebook’s privacy settings and lock their profile down.”
Reynolds warned parents that ‘friending’ their child on Facebook does not automatically mean they are privy to everything posted by their child or their child’s friends.
“Kids today are savvy and it doesn’t take them long to figure out how to change the settings so certain things are blocked from certain people, such as their parents. A lot of kids also will set up an alternative profile under a different name or a nickname. One is for their parents and one is for their friends.”
While schools try to block students’ access to objectionable material on the Internet and protect them from cyber-bullying, he warned that no system is foolproof.
“There are just too many ways around any measure we put in place,” he said. “The best thing we can do to fight it is educate parents and students.”
Email Scott Goss at firstname.lastname@example.org