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Schools hold Internet safety workshop for parents

By Caitlin Rickard crickard@lebanondemocrat.com • Dec 17, 2015 at 5:55 PM

Parents and teachers alike showed up to an Internet safety seminar Monday to learn about the dangers of things like social media and online predators.

Throughout the year Lebanon schools holds workshops on a range of topics from Common Core to financial training in order to familiarize parents, students and teachers on a variety of issues.

Monday night from 6-8:30 p.m. at Castle Heights Elementary was no exception as Beth Petty, Lebanon Family Resource Center coordinator, lined up numerous speakers and presentations to inform attendees of Internet dangers and safety tips.

The night saw presentations from students from Youth Leadership Wilson, Kendall Bryan, an area licensed professional counselor, Castle Heights Librarian Cindy Sharp, Lebanon police Officer P.J. Hardy and Sgt. Steve Goodall with the Wilson County Sheriff’s Office.

The workshop kicked off with a group of six Youth Leadership Wilson students speaking on the dangers of social media.

The students spoke on the most popular forms of social media, including Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook, and spoke to ways parents and students could benefit from these and how to use them safely.

The students shared different scenarios from actual social media incidents that included a video of a fight, an Instagram account that targeted certain students at school and a back-and-forth verbal fight on Twitter.

The group then explained that each scenario is possible and has happened and offered ways and explanations on each medium.

The students attested that Snapchat, an app that allows people to exchange pictures, but only view them for a set amount of 1-10 seconds, poses a threat because screenshotting photos on Apple devices is available for the viewer to save the picture and share with anyone.

The Youth Leadership group offered advice for the social sites such as only accept requests from people you actually know, share only safe and moderate information, get familiar with privacy policies and don’t be afraid to use the block and private settings.

Leadership Wilson Director Dorie Mitchell also echoed her student’s words and advice.

“Your children are on these things whether you like it or not, its reality,” Mitchell said. “Though the legal age is 13 for these sites, you know your child and not all 13 year olds are the same. So you have to make that decision.”

Next, Bryan, an area licensed professional counselor spoke on guide for parents regarding Internet safety.

Bryan said statistically 1 in 5 children are approached by a sexual predator on the Internet at some point and there are 200,000 sexual predators online at any given point.

Bryan said these predators prey on teenage children and take time to get to know the kids, even often sending gifts.

There are 119 registered sex offenders in Wilson County, according to Bryan and more than 800 in Davidson County. As an example, of the 119 in Wilson County, Bryan said that 39 were within five miles of Castle Heights Elementary School.

Bryan offered advice to parents such as getting to know chatroom language and keeping an eye on what your teens are posting to social media sites.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigations reports that personal information such as your schools name, athletic team numbers, your address and phone numbers should not be blogged.

Bryan said parents should also look to invest in software such as Cyberpatrol, Safe Eyes, Cybersitter or Wisechoice.net to know what their children are doing online.

“These are average people like us,” Bryan “We need to be on top of this, you’ve got to be involved and know who your child’s chatting with and what they’re doing.”

When it comes to cyber bullying, being attacked or bullied online, Bryan said 58 percent of people have said they have had mean things said to them online.

Bryan said those being cyber bullied should ignore or not open messages from bullies, save their contact information and fill out a bully report at school or the police and be sure they know that they can come to their parents or an adult.

Another hot topic was sexting, which is sending nude photos online or via cellphone.

Bryan, and those officers present, said most importantly, students should know that they could be charged with child pornography for sending nude photos of minors.

Sharp, an End Slavery volunteer, then spoke briefly on the anti-human trafficking organization.

Sharp said there was 20,000 people trafficked across the U.S. border annually and 12-14 was the average age of entry into sex trafficking.

In Tennessee last year, 85 counties reported at least one case of human trafficking and four counties were involved with 100 or more cases.

Sharp said lures into sex trafficking can come online or via cellphone and parents should be weary and supportive of their child’s social media habits.

Five ways Sharp said you could be smarter than your smart phone is by being a parent and a resource, using password protections, updating your operating systems, approving apps before download and understand location services.

Hardy then spoke to the group on other issues with technology. He said those devices with cameras should be turned off when they are not in use because hackers have been known to log in to webcams and have a live feed directly into people’s homes who leave their computers or cameras on.

Touching on more social media safety tips, he said it’s important to remember it’s not just the child’s responsibility to be safe, but it’s the parents, too.

“Keeping your kids active and engaged might can make a lot of this go away,” Hardy said. 

Hardy said encouraging your kids to play sports or join clubs or organizations could hopefully take some of the dangers out of staying online all day by eliminating time spent at a computer or phone.

“If we keep them busy, active and engaged then we don’t give them as much time to mess around with this kind of stuff,” Hardy said.

Goodall spoke last, echoing many points previously stated and encouraging parents to “keep the lines of communication open.”

Goodall said if your child is looking to get involved in social media, don’t be afraid to ask them why and for examples of how they would use it and discuss situations and scenarios with your child.

He also said it is important to give away as little information as possible on social websites in order to keep as much information as possible away from predators.

With only a few bits of information such as school and workplace, Goodall said most any criminal mind would be able to manipulate and find out more information on your child.

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