A community presentation on internet awareness is Ensuring Youth Safety in Cyberspace. scheduled to take place in the Saugerties High School auditorium next Monday, September 25 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Entitled Ensuring Youth Safety in Cyberspace, the program is free to parents, guardians and the public.
“The idea really is an awareness of cyber-safety,” said Thomas Averill, principal of Saugerties High. “Being safe is that there’s a responsibility for everybody when they’re using social media or the cyber world. The presentation is going to cover everything from laws to proper protocols to the responsibility people have, and how you keep your children safe. It’s all-encompassing and not just a focus on bullying. What does it mean to be safe?”
Led by retired New York City detective Thomas Grimes, the event is partly sponsored by the Ulster County Safe Harbour program, which seeks to raise public awareness about the exploitation and trafficking of youth for sex and labor. It is funded by the New York State Office of Children and Family Services. Other sponsors, Averill said, include Ulster County executive Mike Hein and the county department of social services, whose commissioner, Michael Iapoce, has been instrumental in bringing the program to Saugerties.
Because of the ease of using social media and accessing cyberspace, the principal said, young people often put themselves at risk without even realizing it. “When kids put something out there or friend somebody or add them to Snapchat or Instagram, they think everything is going to be okay with who they add, and a lot of their information is getting out there, and they don’t know where it goes from there,” he explained. “They’re just very open with their information and they think it will be okay.
“[The internet] is a little box in front of them, and how much harm can be done when you punch something into a little box? And that’s a really dangerous scenario for students. They don’t really understand that when they send something out there’s an electronic footprint to what they send out. If they’re being mean to somebody or getting into conflict and send something out that could be deemed harassing, they could have an issue with it that doesn’t disappear. It follows them forever.”
Averill warned about the perils. What might seem like harmless fun or just fooling around with new technology can quickly become dangerous, he said.
“The web camera, for example,” he said. “Sexting, sending pictures out. All of that is a danger zone for our youth. And I don’t think they realize the ramifications that if they send one picture to somebody they could be distributing pornography and they don’t even look at it that way. They need to understand the law better than they do, and their ramifications for their actions, and for us it’s one of the most important topics that we can open up to our school community. I think our students are really affected by the pervasive technology that’s in front of them, and we have to get on the same page about what the boundaries are.”
Parents and other members of the community are encouraged to attend the presentation on Monday night. Students at SHS are also going to hear from Grimes at an assembly during first and second periods earlier that day.
Minimizing the likelihood of engaging in risky behavior is best achieved when parents or guardians are on the same page with children about the realities of cyberspace, Averill said. “The more information we can bring to our students and parents regarding this topic, I think the more it will help us all get a better grip on that technology.”
The key when isn’t just getting students to listen, but also getting the information to stick. “A great speaker can really attract their attention and get them to think about it, and when we’ve done assemblies like this for students, they’re very serious there,” Averill said. “But I don’t know how long it lasts. When they get involved, three weeks later on whatever social media they’re on, they get caught up in the moment and forget whatever they learned three weeks earlier.”
He’s hoping for “the biggest turnout we’ve ever had for that evening presentation.” The more people that become informed, Averill thinks, “the better off everybody is going to be and the safer children are going to be.”