Anyone who is a parent and isn’t exactly sure of the difference between a Candygram and Instagram could have found the perfect forum Monday night when the Everett Schools hosted an expert in Internet apps and their unfortunate use for ‘Sexting.’
The world of ‘sexting’ and cyber malfeasance shown its ugly head in Everett last spring when four girls at the Madeleine English School allegedly sent naked pictures of themselves to boys at the Whittier School. The pictures, unfortunately, went viral and parents alerted police and Supt. Fred Foresteire to the situation.
As police investigated, the schools began working to teach young people and parents about the dangers of cyberbullying, sexting, and general Internet safety. Compounded in that conundrum is the fact that the pictures were of girls who were minors, and possessing such pictures opens young people up to charges of child pornography – a serious felony.
Enter Katie Greer, who went on a whirlwind tour of the Parlin, Whittier, English and Everett High School on Monday to talk to students about the issue in general, and specifically what happened in Everett.
She capped off her tour with an informational meeting for parents Monday night.
Greer is a former director of Internet safety in the attorney general’s office, and also a former intelligence analyst for the State Police. She now runs her own company, KL Greer Consulting, and goes all over the region to discuss such Internet issues with kids and parents.
“The technology for social media and these apps moves quickly and changes exponentially and adults are just trying to keep their heads above water,” she said. “The kids are really on top of it and know everything. This kind of information is so important. Some schools will call me in and say they don’t have an issue, but just wanted to address it. We always end up finding out that there is an issue, but they just didn’t know it. It is everywhere. A lot of kids are doing great and productive things with the Internet and social media. There is bad that comes with it too. Kids often don’t think about the fact that the actions they take today will have consequences later.
“I feel like the program we did in Everett with the kids during the day and the parents at night is the most effective combo,” she continued. “Really, parents need to be involved in their kids digital lives. That’s critical to this teaching. I can tell the kids and the school can tell the kids, but it really depends on what’s happening at home. Are there restrictions at home too?”
In most of her seminars, Greer said the kids are surprised to learn the legal implications of their actions – such as potential cyberbullying criminal charges or child pornography criminal charges. She said most of the questions from the kids are specifics and most of the questions from adults are vague, sort of ‘entry-level’ social media inquiries.
“Snapchat is a big thing that I talk about and am asked about,” she said. “It supposedly disappears shortly after you receive it. That is probably the first or second most popular app kids are using. It’s that one and Instagram. I use SnapChat and I think it can be fun, but I think kids need to understand that nothing just goes away. Things can be saved; screen shot pictures can be taken. The best way to think about it for young people is before you send something, think about whether you would be embarrassed if your principal, your parent or your college admissions officer saw it. There’s nothing truly out there that just goes away.”
One very important thing that Greer said she stresses is that social media is not bad in and of itself. It’s only how it is used.
“My approach isn’t to go in there and say let’s get rid of all this stuff,” she said. “I say that this stuff is great. I use it; I grew up with it, but you have to know how to use it the right way.”