A single moment of impulsive use of the Internet, a cell phone or other technology can have lifelong repercussions.
That was the message Colorado Cablevision Optimum Vice President Trent Anderson brought to the students of Fort Morgan High School Thursday during an afternoon assembly.
The purpose of the gathering was to provide the teens with information about the consequences of cyberbullying and sexting in a different way, so they can really learn how it can impact their lives, said FMHS Principal Judy Florian.
A lot of time bullying of any sort is secretive, because it is not cool to talk to adults, but it can get out of hand before school officials and parents learn about it, she said.
presentation which is part of Cablevison’s Internet Smarts program focused on how foolish use of Internet technology can ruin teen’s lives.
Most kids do not get into serious trouble, but those who do face consequences that are getting worse, Anderson told the students.
He told the story of Phoebe Prince, an Irish immigrant who committed suicide after being harassed online by fellow students.
Her friends reported that others called her “Irish slut,” and tormented her not only at school but also through the Internet. Five of those who were accused of harassing her were sentenced to probation and community service, but the consequences can be worse than that, Anderson warned.
In today’s economy, employers often search the Internet and Facebook pages before hiring employees. How will this incident look to potential employers or to those who decide whether a student can enter college, he asked.
It does not just have to be about bullying, though.
The practice of sending sexy photos and messages to boyfriends or girlfriends can come back to haunt people, Anderson said.
Anderson works with law enforcement officials who track the use of the Internet, and they love social media because it makes
it easier to catch people doing inappropriate or criminal things — and sexting is criminal.
If a girl sends a topless photo to her boyfriend, she can be charged with production and distribution of child pornography, and he can be charged with possession of child pornography, Anderson said. Even if he did not ask for the photo, the recipient can still be charged with possession of child porn.
They could go to jail and/or branded as sexual offenders for the rest of their lives, he said. Taking a photo of an underage person can be good for 15 years in prison and distributing a photo can bring five years.
One survey showed that 30 percent of teens are involved with one sort of sexting or another at some time, Anderson
One of the other consequences is that sexting photos can get into the hands of anyone, he said. Images made on a cell phone or camera and sent go to servers, where copies are made, and those photos can end up anywhere.
“Don’t let others decide who looks at your pictures,” Anderson emphasized.
Al it takes is striking a pose, sending a photo and regretting it forever, he said.
On top of that, there can be social consequences for sexting. All too often, the photos end up in the hands of other teens and can make the rounds of schools. Students have sometimes felt they had to change schools afterward due to the embarrassment, and others have even committed suicide, Anderson noted.
Similar consequences can come from wild things posted on social media pages, he said.
Anderson talked about one student who had a lacrosse scholarship to Johns Hopkins University. Before she was accepted, she had an interview with the coach, where she was asked to show her Facebook page, and was subsequently rejected.
“I don’t think you’re Johns Hopkins material,” the coach told her.
After the assembly, parents, teachers and administrators gathered to discuss the dangers of how people use technology. During that talk, others noted they had not hired people whose social media pages revealed poor judgment.
If something on a social media site could be embarrassing, take it down, Anderson pleaded. He also advised that they should keep personal information private, not ever putting inappropriate photos on sites where nothing is really ever private.
Anything that has ever been in digital form can be found and pirated, he warned.
“Think before you post,” Anderson said.
In earlier years, if a child got into trouble it would pass, and records were purged, he said. Today, anything that ends up on the Web is there forever, and people can find it. It follows people their whole lives, even if it was a youthful indiscretion.
One parent in the discussion group said she had posted a comment after a funeral in 2003, and that is still the first thing that pops up when her name is searched.
Anderson also asked students to respect other kids while online.
There are ways to handle cyberbulling, he said.
About half of teens who have experienced harassment or aggression online had it stop when they simply asked the person to stop, Anderson quoted a survey.
About 80 percent escaped harassment by changing their passwords.
About 67 percent said changing their e-mail or other contact sites helped.
The most effective way to deal with cyberbullying was to tell someone else, whether parents, police or teachers, Anderson said.
He reminded the students that any cell phone can block any text or phone call, and told them not to respond to harassment or rude comments.
Some of the most effective support can come from other students, Anderson said, telling the story of a boy who wore a pink shirt to school one day and was harassed. Other students stood up for him, and many came to school as a group wearing pink shirts.
In another incident, a boy posted a goofy photo of himself online, thinking he was just showing off his new coat and not recognizing how it looked, Anderson said. He was harassed, but his brother stepped in to help him get through it.
“I hope all of you … do the same thing,” Anderson said.
In order to help the teens to remember these messages, Cablevision is sponsoring a poster contest, he said. The creators of the best 10 posters illustrating the dangers of using Internet technology unwisely will each win an Ipod Touch.
Cablevision also donated $2,000 to FMHS to use in getting the message out.
During the discussion after the assembly, U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner asked how legislation could help prevent these kinds of problems. He had helped arrange for the assembly.
Gardner noted that even good legislation can be ineffective. He had helped craft a bill that was supposed to go after sexual predators who used computers, but it did not cover the use of cell phones and other technology.
One of the problems is keeping up with technology and keeping at the task of warning kids, Anderson said. Educators may warn students about one form of technology, only to have another form come along with its own dangers. And each new class of students has to be warned each year.
Fort Morgan School District administrators said that there had been instances when cyberbullying got out of hand or sexting came back to bite students.
There is a rule in FMHS that there can be no texting in class, but cell phones are sometimes used for educational purposes.
One of the difficulties with cyberbullying is that children cannot get away from it, one teacher said. In the past, they could at least get away from bullies at home.
The lines are blurred between school and the rest of the world, she said.
Most students and many adults have social media pages, Gardner noted.
Even third- and fourth-grade students have cell phones, another person said.
Perhaps the single biggest mistake parents make when giving their children cell phones is enabling the multi-media system, which is the part that makes the camera work, Anderson said. Parents can sign up for controls that put them in control of what children use, or can tell the company not to enable the multi-media.
“That’s what traps kids,” he said.
Even good, smart kids can make mistakes on the spur of the moment, Anderson explained.
Until the risks of criminal charges are eliminated, he will not let his children have cell phones with any function except the use of a telephone, he said.
A number of states are struggling with ways to create separate penal codes, so they do not face the same penalties as sexual predators, Anderson said. He wondered if anything could be done at the federal level.
One of the problems is that children hear the information, but do not retain it, he said.
“It just doesn’t register,” Anderson said.
One teacher noted that teens process information differently than adults. They may see that it is dangerous to drive 120 miles an hour, but believe they have taken all factors into consideration.
They do not realize how reckless an action can be, Anderson said.
Shawn Beqas, vice president of government affairs for Cablevision, said his company took videotape of the whole presentation and will make a 30-minute documentary to show on all the local channels in Colorado. That is meant to get the word out to parents and children.
Repetition, repetition, repetition helps get the message across, he said.
– Contact Dan Barker at firstname.lastname@example.org.