By Paul Artman
“Not my child!” That was a comment recently used at a parent information night when the school community gathered to discuss cyber issues. “Yes indeed, my child,” should be the convincing words used in every family to deal with today’s most fashionable and dangerous cyber issues. Whether the issue is online cheating and plagiarism, cyber bullying, social networking, sexting or encountering predators, parents need to understand that they are the front line point of contact on these real life issues, and that family communication regarding such is a must.
“We have responsibility as Catholics to promote internet safety as a church. Education for both adults and children is important to us as good Catholics to be respectable and appropriate users of digital and social media,” explained Vickie Carollo, coordinator of the Office of Child Protection for the Diocese of Jackson. “Technology is constantly evolving. We must stay abreast of these changes due to the dangers that threaten us, our children and young people,” she added.
Please talk with your children about cyber safety, online dangers, your expectations, the ground rules, monitoring, how to respond to a threat, reporting issues and how positive peer pressure can help. Likewise, these tips could help save a child from a life of torment brought on by reckless online behaviors. We must remain realistic; it could very well be your child.
Do something about this today because, believe it or not, your child is tethered to electronic social networks and devices at least eight hours daily! Especially now that summer has arrived and kids will have more free time.
First and foremost, parents should institute internet safety rules for the household, adhere to these, and continually monitor effectiveness. Rules should center on non-disclosure of sensitive information online, the reporting of uncomfortable encounters and the posting of photos. Through the monitoring process, parents need to be cognizant of online lingo used and insist that the family should know online friends just as we would demand knowing and visiting with friends in person. Parents must focus on constant communication with their children regarding cyber issues.
Discuss early and often the expectations, dangers, ground rules, peer pressure and appropriate responses regarding matters of the internet. Make no mistake, online predators do exist and are ready to prey on any vulnerable person. Often posing as someone else, online predators and evil sites may attempt to lure children through their confidences or gifts. Children must be instructed not to open spam or emails from unknown persons. Pornography and evil electronic providers must be reported immediately to your internet service provider and law enforcement.
There is no doubt that social network sites have broadened relationship opportunities, but not all relationships are psycho-socially healthy. Regarding internet sites, it must be noted that some sites gather profiles; therefore, we must always consider what information we wish to be held by others. Adding online social contacts just for the sake of adding contacts can be dangerous. Caution should become second nature, but often times young people cast caution to the wind, especially when electronic devices are concerned.
Online postings become public information and have a shelf life beyond your own life expectancy. Today, more than eight percent of future employers and higher education intuitions review applicants’ social network postings.
Sexting, the exchange of personal explicit photos online, is a generational exercise that is difficult to understand, but a sad youthful reality. Our children must be reminded to think about the consequences, ultimate destinations, and the longevity of images before they ever hit the send button on any electronic device. The guiding principle is to never take a photograph that one would not mind everyone else in the world viewing.
The cyber-explosion has also drastically impacted educational institutions with regard to academic applications, bullying, digital cheating and plagiarism. In this era, we often post negative things about others online that we would never say in person. It is time for a new standard of being kind and understanding how comments will be taken negatively online. We must all resist the opportunity to personally bully someone or employ a proxy to engage in bullying. In taking anti-bullying action, tell someone, walk away without incident and reach out for help.
Again, for the greater good achieved by laptops, tablets, and smartphones it must be noted that these devices often promote the opportunity to cheat. Plagiarism is another form of cheating that has only intensified in our cyber rich world. Plagiarism is the taking of another’s scholarly work as if it were our own. While often misunderstood by students and parents alike, this is considered theft of intellectual property.
Today’s cyber world certainly offers new insights into relationships, learning, and communication, but its detriments can be even more overwhelming. Caution is urged as we face a dangerous new world.
The Mississippi Attorney General’s Cyberbullying Task Force is ready and willing to help you educate your children and youth about the improper use of social networking. A task force representative can be reached at 601/576-4281 or 601/576-4265.
(Paul Artman is the principal of Greenville St. Joseph School. Maureen Smith contributed to this report)