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Kunkel, Fink and Reid students learn how to be safe online, with apps

By Laura Hayes

laurahayes@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 5/2/18

Most young students know not to talk to strangers in the mall or the grocery store. However, with the growing popularity of computer tablets and smartphones, do children know how to stay safe …

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Kunkel, Fink and Reid students learn how to be safe online, with apps

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Most young students know not to talk to strangers in the mall or the grocery store. However, with the growing popularity of computer tablets and smartphones, do children know how to stay safe online?

“If you wouldn’t go outside this school and talk to a stranger, you don’t go in the house or indoors and talk to strangers on your devices,” Jerry Mitchell, an education and outreach specialist with the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General, told Kunkel Elementary School third-, fourth- and fifth-graders during a presentation on April 27.

Mitchell said that since 2013, the attorney general’s child predator unit has arrested about 740 people.

A 2016 report from the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts said from 2012 to 2015, 39 percent of the cyber-crime convictions involved online child pornography. The remaining convictions included computer theft, unlawful use of computers, computer trespassing and unlawful duplication or transmission of emails.

From Snapchat to video games, Mitchell discussed various ways that students use their devices and how to stay safe during an assembly on internet safety at Kunkel, Fink and Reid elementary schools.

 

“Guys, we understand that you have all this technology, and our job is to help you be safe and make sure you stay safe with your technology. Use it, but don’t misuse it.” — Jerry Mitchell, an education and outreach specialist with the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General

 

The assembly was organized by librarian Cherie Fake as part of her curriculum to teach students how to be good digital citizens and be safe while using the internet.

“I learned not to talk to other people and strangers” online, Kunkel third-grader Mena Rodriguez said.

Students are professionals at using devices, Mitchell said. In an interview, he added that children have 24/7 access to the internet. Children have to understand that there are bad people out there, he said.

“Teachers, they’re coming out of day care, knowing how to manipulate technology,” Mitchell said during the assembly. “It’s a touch-screen world.”

That’s something Fake has seen in the elementary schools. Kindergarteners, she said, know how to use tablets and phones to go to YouTube and watch videos. Younger and younger students know how to use the Internet and devices, she said.

Mitchell said most students have access to cellphones and tablets. He said he believes that smart watches will become more popular among students next school year.

At Kunkel, the students got excited when Mitchell mentioned Snapchat — an application that allows users to send pictures, videos and messages that can often only be viewed for a couple of seconds before disappearing.

He asked the students why they liked the app.

One student said she liked being able to speak the message in case they didn’t know how to spell a word, and another said you could snap someone even if you didn’t have their number.

It’s an app most parents don’t have, one girl told Mitchell.

He thanked the girl for her honesty. In an interview after the assembly, Mitchell said that the girl’s response was alarming to a degree.

“She knew that, and that arms her with the knowledge of, ‘If they’re not on it, this is something I can be on. So I don’t have to worry about them knowing what I’m doing,’” Mitchell said.

“Guys, you have to be really careful when using these apps,” Mitchell told the students.

He explained that someone can easily friend a student on an application and lie, telling the child that they’re a fellow student at a different school or say they’re a young person, too. The person in reality could be much older, Mitchell said.

“I don’t fall for that,” one boy chimed in.

Several other students said “no,” and others laughed.

Mitchell said there’s a disconnect — young students are intelligent, but not wise.

“To make a statement like that at that young age, there’s not an adult in this room who’s going, ‘Yeah, I agree.’ Every adult in this room is thinking, ‘You don’t have the wisdom yet to know what’s coming at you or what’s not coming at you,’” Mitchell said.

More than just telling students not to talk to strangers online, Mitchell told them to be aware of the photos they post, which he said can tell where the person lives and what their name is. He advised them not to send pictures of themselves or even of their pets to people.

Children can make an account on a website or application by the time they know how to operate a computer, Mitchell said in interview.

Mitchell advised parents to restrict devices so applications can’t be downloaded, monitor what they’re doing on the device and have frequent conversations on what the child is doing online. As kids get older and more mature, he said parents could loosen the restrictions.

He said predators come from all walks of life. YouTube and Snapchat are a popular way to contact children, Mitchell said, although predators do use other applications.

It’s easy to create a YouTube account — all you need is an email address, Mitchell said — and viewers can comment on videos.

“And then somebody responds,” Mitchell said.

The district has had similar assemblies in the past, but Fake said it had been several years.

As part of her lessons, Fake teaches the children a number of things — what is personal information and how to keep it private, why to be wary of strangers, what an online predator is, how to properly cite articles in a bibliography, and cyberbullying.

“That’s so rampant,” Fake said of cyberbullying.

Mitchell said strangers may ask how old they are, their name, where they live or go to school or if their parents argue. If there’s arguing in the household, Mitchell said that the child may feel as if they can’t confide in their parents but could confide in the stranger.

He asked the students who they would tell if a stranger contacted them online. The students said parents, guardians, police or other trusted adults.

“Who you don’t want to tell is just each other,” Mitchell said. He said often children will tell each other before they tell adults.

In the future, Fake said she hopes to hold more internet safety talks with students and offer one to parents and guardians as well.

“Here’s why we’re telling you all of this. All of you are the future,” Mitchell said.