Gone are the days when school bathroom walls were the only place words of hurt lived. Kids were safe not only from bullying, at home, but from the harm of predators.
Now, bullying is everywhere and it’s 24/7. And the predators don’t even have to leave their homes.
Words of hurt are thoughtlessly posted online for the world to see, pictures are posted, friendships are made, and broken, in a simple click.
Keeping students safe online is a major concern within the Vernon School District, which recently brought social media expert Jesse Miller to town to discuss the subject.
Miller, of Mediated Reality, shared insight into the online dangers that kids don’t even realize they are getting themselves into.
“There’s more dangers online than there is in a community park,” said Miller.
“They (predators) are more susceptible to being caught or highlighted in that park compared to the Internet where they can just kind of hide behind the guise of a profile.”
And it’s not just the connection with strangers that is concerning. The Internet has a never-ending potential for emotional harm to youth.
But that is where parents and educators can step in to ensure kids are aware of these dangers, and are also aware of their own social responsibility online.
“We’ve given kids a tool that allows them to connect with the entire world and expected them to have this understanding,” said Miller.
“But we haven’t factored into the fact that they are children who make childish mistakes.”
Therefore parents are urged to alert their kids to the dangers of online predators and ‘friends.’
“If you don’t know who that follower is, why is it OK on the internet but not in real life?” said Miller of how we would not let a stranger follow us home.
There are also major concerns about the fact that what goes online, never goes away. There’s even ways to permanently preserve Snapchat photos.
“When it comes down to the Internet, some of the things that we say and do we just put them out there but we don’t really know where it goes,” he said.
For example, valuable information can easily be accessed such as particular types of photos shared, where they live, bathroom shots and kids sharing pictures of their new driver’s license.
“One of the biggest trends we see with B.C. youth when it comes down to documenting something of a personal nature on Instagram is they take pictures of their brand new driver’s license and they put that on the internet,” said Miller.
That picture, which includes a home address, date of birth and physical features can then be accessed by strangers.
“When we have 18-year-olds complain that they can’t get loans because they’ve already had credit fraud.
“It’s most likely because they gave their information away when they were 16, somebody just waited patiently for two years.”
Miller offers several suggestions, such as having your kids read their text messages out loud, ensuring no phones or tablets are allowed at the table, and simply not using technology to pacify your kids.
“You can’t teach your kid how to swim in the pool by standing on the sidelines. You need to be in there with them coaching them along.”