Students and Parents Attend an Internet Safety Assembly at SHMS
One hundred and sixty thousand. That’s the daily number of students in the United States that don’t want to go to school the next day because of something that was said to them online the night before. It’s statistics like this, and the ever-changing digital landscape, that prompted a visit to SHMS from Thomas Grimes, of NY Finest Speakers. “Understanding internet safety for both the students and the parents is crucial to protect kids from bullies, predators, and cybercriminals,” said Grimes, a retired US Air Force Veteran, and former NYPD Detective.
Thanks to a generous grant from the Foundation for the Public Schools of the Tarrytowns, Grimes presented a multi-media talk with each grade, sharing cautionary tales of how things can go wrong and how to be safe while still enjoying the internet.
“If we can pledge right now in this auditorium together to not hurt others on the internet, we have already improved the security here at Sleepy Hollow Middle School,” said Grimes as he opened his presentation. And then he posed the question that, as internet users, we should all ask ourselves, “Am I here to hurt or help?”
There are five components to responsible internet usage that Grimes stressed: privacy, respect, compassion, decency, and civility. According to Grimes, students need to understand why they need to protect themselves, how to do it, and who they need protection from.
“You control what you share and who you share it with,” said Grimes. As in all things in life, students should always trust their instincts, “if it doesn’t feel right in your gut, don’t do it.”
Grimes spent the most time discussing two issues with our young internet users: cyberbullying and cyber predators. Touching on cyber security, he stressed the need to protect your personal information. And to avoid those who would hurt them, students should “Block, unfriend and delete anyone who is asking for information or makes you feel uncomfortable.”
The biggest threat is people who want to manipulate and exploit younger people. Online predators use gaming and social apps like Tik Tok and Instagram to get to know their victims. By pretending to be children on internet sites, predators groom kids by showing fake profile pictures and being friendly to gain their trust. Once a relationship is established, the predator suggests to LMIRL, ‘Let’s meet in real life.’
Many of them operate intending to obtain a sexually explicit image. The FBI estimates that 500,000 predators are a daily threat to kids each day, and somebody will coerce one in 25 children into physical contact via online contact. This is already happening to middle and high schools right here in Westchester County, a fact about which the Westchester County DA is well aware. Grimes also shared many stories of victims, hoping to get his message to resonate.
The other primary focus of the Internet Safety Awareness Assembly was cyberbullying. Grimes stressed that students shouldn’t suffer in silence; they should tell parents or an adult at school because while it doesn’t feel temporary, it is. He recommends students “unplug” and leave their phones off in the kitchen at night. If they are online, be kind. Just like if we witness bullying in person, Grimes also encourages students to stand up for each other online.
A tandem parent workshop about managing and protecting your children’s internet use was held the same evening and complimented the student assemblies earlier in the day. Parents and caregivers learned some of what was shared with the students earlier but focused on children’s dangers and risks and critical parameters to safeguard against them. Most importantly, keeping an open dialogue and encouraging children to come to their parents for help is the best way to keep kids safe.
Ultimately Grimes wanted the students to learn that the internet is overwhelmingly positive. Using the ocean and the beach as a metaphor for the internet, Grimes explained to students that it is beautiful and fun, but while there, they need to protect themselves from sunburn and be aware of jellyfish or even sharks. “When you can practice respect, privacy, compassion, decency, and civility, you have the power!’
For additional information and resources about internet safety against cyber predators, Grimes recommends visiting aliciaproject.com. To learn more about preventing cyberbullying, please visit stopbullying.org.