NEWINGTON - There are apps that hide apps and ones made for teens by teens, to exchange things of an illicit nature. Parents learned about these and other dangers their children face in the ever-changing World Wide Web Monday night at Newington High School.
Law enforcement officer, parent and educator Scott Driscoll led the workshop, designed for middle- and high-school-aged students and their parents.
Driscoll trains law enforcement across Connecticut on cyber crime. “Sexting” became an issue as soon as the first mobile devices debuted, he revealed. In the last decade, laws surrounding child pornography have changed, making the distribution illegal for individuals of any age.
“Students, if you receive an inappropriate picture from someone else you have two choices: Delete it immediately or turn it in to local law enforcement,” Driscoll said, addressing the youngest members of his audience.
Youths were asked to depart the auditorium for the second half of the program, so adults could hear what their kids might not be telling them.
Parents were encouraged to ask their children to share their digital photo collections and inquire about new apps.
“Make sure their settings are set to private on Instagram and Snapchat,” Driscoll pointed out. “This is a battle worth fighting.”
Keep an eye out for newer apps like Kik and After School, he added, which can put kids in potentially dangerous situations without them even knowing.
Safe, kid-friendly search engines like Kid Rex filter out inappropriate material that may come up on Google, Bing and Yahoo. Open DNS provides parents free Wi-Fi controls, to block certain websites from their kids’ mobile devices in and out of the home.
For Scott Raymond, his daughter Elsa, 12, and son Quinn, 15, the lines of communication are free and open when it comes to internet use.
“We laid the groundwork four or five years ago,” Scott pointed out. “My kids are great. There’s no need for me to use spyware or sneak around behind their backs.”
The Raymonds talk about social media and smart phones and the role they play in their lives regularly.
“Any conversation you have online you should be able to have face-to-face or with your parents,” Scott tells his kids. “It’s about positive communication.”
Driscoll imparted that same motto to his large audience Monday night, along with this one: “Say what you mean, mean what you say, but don’t say it mean.”
Exchanges on social media and text messages can take on all sorts of ugly forms, he said, before sharing a story about a young woman who saved the life of someone contemplating suicide due to encouragement from online “friends.”
“If you see someone being mistreated online, tell a trusted adult about it and you will be a hero,” he told the students.
Many grownups don’t understand the extent of cyber-bullying, having endured playground bullying as kids.
“With today’s technology kids can’t just fake a stomach ache and stay home from school to avoid bullying,” Driscoll said. “Kids, if you say to yourself, maybe I can improve some of my behavior, it makes tonight worth it.”
NHS student William Ofari, 14, attended the presentation with his two younger brothers. He was born in Ghana and they just recently came over to live in the U.S., so the family has close ties with another community across the world.
“I use social media to keep up with people so I don’t lose them,” Ofari pointed out. “I post appropriate stuff.”
He has, however, been an observer of mean exchanges among friends.
“I’ve seen people say stuff online like go kill yourself or calling people losers. I post appropriate stuff.”
NHS Principal Terra Tigno said her school community deals with issues that stem from online activity almost daily.
“Most of the time, students are not aware that what they say offends others or the impact it can have, nor the ramifications on themselves,” she said.
Fortunately, bullying of any variety is infrequent at the high school, Tigno pointed out.
“It’s important that we all learn how to monitor and use the internet in the safest way possibly,” she added.
Erica Schmitt can be reached at 860-801-5097, @schmittnbh or firstname.lastname@example.org.