Cyberbullying, Internet safety a growing concern for school-aged children

-A A +A
By Kacie Goode

Technology has become more integrated into classroom learning with the use of laptops, iPads and other electronic devices in schools, and while its access is meant to expand educational opportunities for students, creating good “digital citizens” is key to avoiding inappropriate use.

Officer Scott Harvey of the Nicholasville Police Department said kids are growing up with technology, but they aren’t being shown how it works or how to use it properly, which has become evident with issues of cyberbullying and sharing of inappropriate content among school-aged kids.

Next week, on March 27, Harvey will visit Cox’s Creek Elementary School and Old Kentucky Home Middle School to talk with students about safe and proper social media use, staying safe online and also on issues of bullying and harassment.

“We thought it was important for our fourth- and fifth-graders,” said CCE Principal Diana Smith, adding that around that age, many students now start using cell phones or other technology. “We want to make sure we are equipping our students with the best knowledge up front on making sure they are making good choices.”

Local schools are not alone in the potential issues they face, Harvey said.

“All schools are dealing with irresponsible use of technology,” he said. “These schools are no different than other schools around the world.”

Harvey recently attended a summer international conference and was told by educators that schools as far away as China are dealing with similar issues. Through his talks with students, he hopes to help address that trend.

The presentations are something Harvey has been doing for several years on the side, in addition to his full-time law enforcement job. The talks stemmed from years of teaching DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) and hearing technology and bullying-related concerns from his students. About six years ago, he began speaking on a professional level and traveling to schools across the state for presentations.

“In the six years I’ve been doing this professionally, the only thing I’ve seen change is the access to technology,” Harvey said. “Every year, it’s become more and more widespread with kids younger and younger accessing it.”

While phones, computers and tablets are among devices frequently accessed by kids, there are many other electronic devices that pose a risk to young users.

According to StaySafeOnline.org, part of the National Cyber Security Alliance, console and handheld gaming devices such as Xbox or Playstation can also be vessels for cyberbullying or even online predators because they enable Internet access, voice chat, and message exchanges between users.

The alliance advises parents and users to create strong passwords, monitor online connections and user-to-user communication, use parental controls where applicable, not post pictures or send out personal information, and report cyberbullying or inappropriate comments.

Teaching kids to know the risks and proper use of technology starts at home, Harvey said, and building that foundation early on.

“We spend hours teaching them how to drive a car because it’s potentially dangerous,” he said of parents. “But we don’t spend time teaching them how to use technology, which can be just as dangerous.”

In his presentations, Harvey talks about the different social media channels and what good and bad can come from them. He also talks about servers, and how even a text message does not just go from phone to phone.

“It’s unpacking how technology works so that it can be used responsibly,” he said.

He also shows short example videos of an adult who made poor choices with social media, as well as students, and how those issues could have been avoided.

Lynne Potter, coordinator of the TEAM UP! Family Resource and Youth Services Center, who helped coordinate the presentations, said the schools are hoping the program will help kids understand the permanency of photos and comments sent online, as well as how their words can impact others. For families, she said, it’s also understanding the importance of monitoring a child’s technology use.

“Today, everyone is so attached to their phone and the Internet, it is hard to literally disconnect,” she said.

Public program
After speaking with students in the afternoon on March 27, Scott Harvey will host an evening program at Nelson County High School from 6:30-7:30, which will be open to the public.