Do You Know What Your Child or Teen Is Doing Online?
Fremont Police Department Presents Free Seminar About Cyber Bullying, Digital Safety
So much of our daily life revolves around the Internet and wireless technology-status updates, text messages, tweets. And the same is true for many children and teenagers. However, as the Internet and technology have evolved, so have the means to abuse them, raising the question: how do we protect kids and teenagers from a range of digital threats, from cyber bullying to online predators?
Next Monday, April 23, from 6 to 8 p.m., Fremont Police Department Sergeants Jim Koepf and Gregg Crandall will present a special Health & Wellness seminar focusing on cyber bullying and digital safety in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium located at 2500 Mowry Avenue (Washington West building) across the street from Washington Hospital in Fremont.
The Internet has changed the way people interact, and the schoolyard bullying that many parents remember from their own childhood has changed, according to Sgt. Crandall.
"Back in my day and my parents' day, two kids got in a beef, and they fought on the playground - and that was the end of it," he says. "It's different today. The Internet has grown to be a monster if it's not used for what it's supposed to be used for - to stay in contact with friends or relatives - when it comes to social media. Myspace started it all, and now Facebook. We've solved so many cases off of Facebook, from playground brawls to gang issues.
"The lure of the Internet when using it for bad things is being anonymous."
Lucy Hernandez, Operations Coordinator for the Community Health Resource Library at Washington Hospital, who was responsible for organizing the upcoming talk, points out that cyber bullying can have long-term consequences.
"Bullying in addition to cyber bullying can lead adolescents to depression and other psychological problems," she notes. "In some cases, cyber bullying has led students to substance abuse, violence, and even suicide. The effects of bullying can last a lifetime; therefore, such behavior should be dealt with during developmental stages."
Sgt. Crandall says that in the past he and Sgt. Koepf - who serves as the department's School Resource Officer - worked together as part of a taskforce on sexual assault and child abuse in connection with Sunnyvale Police Department. After Sunnyvale's department put together a public service address about Internet safety, geared toward parents and their kids, he and Sgt. Koepf got permission to adapt the presentation for community members in the Tri-City area.
"The presentation that we do talks about not only cyber bullying but also taking advantage of someone online," Sgt. Crandall says. "Fremont Police Department has been involved in solving many cases where we've shown up at somebody's house at 11 p.m., and a girl is in her room with a laptop and the Internet talking about suicide because somebody bullied her online, or somebody said to her, 'If you don't help me cheat, I'm going to say something bad about you.'"
Sgt. Crandall says it's easy for predators to take advantage of kids and teenagers online, and the seminar will address steps to take for parents and their children to protect themselves.
"We talk about things like making sure that kids have everything set to private when they're using Facebook," he says. "For instance, why do you have to put up your birthday and school you go to for everyone to see? If I'm a bad guy, all I have to do is look at their information online and show up at their softball game.
"Unfortunately, as law enforcement, we have to think like this to keeps kids safe."
Sgt. Crandall says that next week's talk is geared toward anyone in the community with access to the Internet - including kids, parents, and even those with a school-age niece or nephew.
"The seminar takes an interactive approach, and we'll send everybody away with a family contract, which is a one-page 'I will do this; I won't do that' agreement that family members can sit down and fill out and put it on the refrigerator," he says. "We're never going to be able to catch all the online predators, but if we can save one kid from the effects of cyber bullying or online predation, then we've done our job."
Hernandez adds that teachers, administrators, and parents should be aware of behavior changes in students who have been bullied or harassed.
"Many adolescents have a digital life, and for many adults, social networking sites are a whole new and unfamiliar world, thus making it difficult to identify and manage the effects of cyber bullying among their students," she says. "Additionally, many adolescents may have trouble reading social signs and do not know what they are doing is hurtful. This seminar will educate school officials and parents on the warning signs of cyber bullying and demonstrate to adolescents its long-lasting negative consequences."
Taking Online Safety Seriously
To find out more about digital safety, including identifying and preventing cyber bullying, join Sgts. Crandall and Koepf next Monday, April 23, from 6 to 8 p.m., in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium located at 2500 Mowry Avenue (Washington West building) across the street from Washington Hospital in Fremont.
To register, call (800) 963-7070 or visit www.whhs.com.