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Home News-Telegram News SSISD: Sessions on cyber issues — what parents need to know

SSISD: Sessions on cyber issues — what parents need to know

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To all the parents who have a teen or child who is glued to their cell phone, tablet or computer, Hopkins County Cyber Awareness Team has a couple of questions for you. Do you know what your child is viewing and sending? Do you know the potential emotional, social and legal ramifications of some items being sent and viewed by kids today?

HCCAT will be hosting “Cyber Awareness: What Parents Need To Know” to discuss how kids are affected by cyber issues, including bullying and harassment; and the introduction to, acquisition of and seriousness of promoting or sharing pornographic content. The session will be offered on three different dates and all parents are urged to attend to learn how to “better equip parents to successfully guide their children through the overwhelming challenges the technology age presents to us all.”

Because of the nature of the topics, parents are asked not to bring their children to the “adult only” meetings.

The one-hour presentation will be offered at two different times on Tuesday, Feb. 11. The first will begin at 9 a.m. at Plain and Fancy Sandwich Shoppe downtown. The second will begin at 5:30 p.m. in Sulphur Springs Middle School cafeteria.

A third session on Monday, Feb. 24, will offer child care for those parents who want to attend, but weren’t able to make other accommodations for their children during previous sessions. That meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. at Trinity Harvest Church Of God, 1150 East Shannon Road.

“We don’t want this to be a ‘got ya’ or ‘I told you so’ thing,” said to SSSMS Principal Jena Williams, who helped start HCCAT and is helping coordinate, promote and present the community parents meetings. “We want to share what we see and hear. The things we’re going to talk about aren’t just things that could happen to someone else. They are things that have happened here in our schools, with our kids and in our community. They’ve caught drug deals going down via text — someone asking about drugs, where to meet or if they’ve got time. Photos of body parts, full nude bodies are being sent. All kinds of vulgarities, threatening comments are being posted.”

Williams, a parent herself, earlier this year as she began settling into the principal’s job at SSMS, began noticing and discussing with other staff and community members some issues that had arisen in relation first to cell phone usage among students. The more issues that cropped up, the more she and others learned about cyber safety, the more committed she and others became to arming parents and students with information needed so that serious situations arising from technology use among students can be avoided. All of the information is relavant to Sulphur Springs and students, all of the situations discussed are real.

Thus, the HCCAT was born. The team includes founders Williams, Assistant District Attorneys Jenni Morse and Rachel Draper, along with Hopkins County Sheriff Butch Adams, County Attorney Dusty Rabe, a CASA representative, several local counselors, local youth pastors, Sulphur Springs-Hopkins County Special Crimes Unit Sgt. Tony Crouse, SSMS and high school counselors, school staff and PTO representatives.

“When I became first convicted, it was just issues with phones, and not just texting,” Williams said. “They are enticing for students. The policy is ‘off and away.’ We got serious about that fast and follow it. Kids are tempted with games, updates that ding. They are vibrating all day so they sneak a text in their pocket. It’s who likes who and talk about who told what secrets, or told what about whom. If the phones are on, kids can’t resist. It’s natural, even for adults, when you get an alert to look at your phone.”

She noted that social networks such as Ask.fm, Facebook, Instagram, Snapshot and others were causing kids to become stressed out. She explained that sites like Ask.fm allow students to post either anonymously or with their name. The freedom of anonymity had numerous students posting inappropriate comments about other students.

“Twelve and 13-year-olds say all kinds of hateful, hurtful things about other students. The result is some stressed out kids. They’re anonymous, so they feel free to say a lot of inappropriate things,” Williams said. “Issues kept coming up. I was talking to Jenni Morse about the issues with the bullying situation. She, Rachel and I continued talking about our worries for kids.”

Bullying once was something kids did at school, but which victims could often get away from at home. Now it follows them home or wherever they go on social networks and is far reaching instantaneously.

That can be very damaging to juveniles’ self esteem. The district has a no-tolerance rule for such acts and Williams strives personally to shut down any instances of bullying, harassment or hazing she becomes aware of immediately.

“Kids mess up. Lets make sure they are aware of what’s involved so they don’t mess up in a lifechanging way using technology which is so powerful,” Williams said.

Inappropriate selfy pictures, snapped on a phone and meant for only one individual, and pornographic photos are another issue. Some photos pop up when accessing other sites or mails. Those depicting minors must be deleted immediately or they are in violation of the law.

For instance, an 11-year-old receives a photo on a cell phone, hits screen save and plans to notify an adult later of inappropriate contact, or worse hits screen-save and texts it to a friend, then deletes or fails to delete it.

“That is trouble with an F (for felony). Most kids don’t know,” Williams said. “Predators use selfies. Thanks to instant technology and quick spread of information, anyone from all over the world can access a location on a picture.”

HCCAT addressed teachers during a work session aftern Christmas to explain what’s been happening with students, the seriousness and consequences, some potentially legal.

“The teachers weren’t aware of it all. They were drawn in. That’s why we have the ‘off and away’ policy. Teachers were letting students use their phones, small computers, to look up things in class. Things pop up sometimes that are inappropriate, like porn, when they do. Some students weren’t doing school research,” Williams said.

There is also a website, sscyberawareness. weebly.com, that is updated as HCCAT runs across new information or more childand youth-friendly applications for safer browsing and use of technology.

“It the team finds something that’s helpful, we get it to John Bimmerle at high school and he puts it up on the website so parents can see the different media apps and things they can use to monitor kids’ technology use,” Williams said. “We don’t want to shut down use of a technology tool, we just want to be in touch with kids. There are things you can do to protect your kids; be aware. Parents need to lead kids on appropriate means and uses for technology.”

 

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