FAIRFIELD TWP. – Cyber safety expert Sgt. Tom Rich spoke to students and parents at Winston S. Churchill School and Adlai E. Stevenson School Monday, Oct. 17, at rallies designed to advise kids how to use social media responsibly and teach parents how to keep their kids safe online.
“With Snapchat, Instagram, Vine, Facebook, and other social media platforms putting children at risk, we have chosen to use STOPit rallies to encourage good digital citizenship,” said Carly Crescibene, the Winston S. Churchill school counselor. “This way, we can empower our students to do the right thing so we can take control of issues before they spiral out of control.”
The rally, funded by the Fairfield Municipal Alliance, is designed to give students tools to navigate the pitfalls of sharing potentially dangerous information on social media. Each school gathered all of their students together for a rally, and parents gathered for a separate presentation that night at Winston S. Churchill School.
“I’m not going to say stop, don’t use this,” said Rich, holding up his phone. “I’m saying use this responsibly, and protect yourself. Technology is fine, it’s how we use it that matters. A lot of young kids are given phones and not taught how to stay safe online.”
Rich is an 18 year veteran of the Summit Police Department who worked as a Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) Officer and a Juvenile Sergeant. Rich has spoken at over 700 events nationally, and has been featured as an online safety and cyberbullying expert on Good Morning America, CNN and Fox News.
Rich said his goal was to create teachable moments to help bridge the gap between students and adults, by showing them examples of the personal and legal consequences of misusing technology. He said anything posted to Facebook or Instagram is owned by Facebook, and reminded students of the permanence of social media.
“Your Facebook can only be deactivated, not deleted,” said Rich. “What you post online stays there.”
Rich also showed students how to turn location settings off for certain apps, and recommended students not take pictures location tagged at their home and school.
“If you have someone following you on social media that you would not let through your front door, do not let them follow you at all,” said Rich.
At one point Rich asked the students gathered at Winston S. Churchill School if they had spoken to a stranger online. Many raised their hands.
Rich said Minecraft, a simple game about crafting and building things, allows kids to interact with strangers all the time. He cautioned kids to be careful and not share dangerous information with anyone, regardless of what they say.
“I think this was excellent and needed,” said Ray Santana, Principal of Winston S. Churchill School. “It made a good impact on students and I think it’ll stick.”
For more information on the STOPit program, visit stopitcyberbully.com.