If your child was asked if they have ever talked to a complete stranger while online, what do you think they would say? For a gym packed full of third through fifth grade students at the Watford City Elementary School on Thursday, Dec. 3, about 50 percent of them raised their hands to acknowledge that yes, they have indeed talked to a complete stranger while online.
What’s even more shocking and scary is the questions these students said they had been asked of by these complete strangers. One student said they were asked where they lived. Another was asked who they were and what their name was. And still more students were asked questions like what’s your e-mail address, what’s your phone number, and what’s your address?
Another hot topic that was presented and discussed at the schools’ presentation, in addition to Cyber-Safety was Cyber-Bullying. What if your child was the victim of today’s ruthless cyber-bullying? What would you do? Who would you talk to? What if your child was a bystander to it?
These questions and more were asked by the students during Thursday’s presentations.
Sgt. Tom Rich, STOPit COP and Cyber-Safety expert from New Jersey, recounted a disturbing story he was told from a recent presentation given at another school. He said two kids raised their hands when asked what strangers were asking them online and the two said they had been asked if they were home alone.
“That was the one answer that really scared me,” said Rich. “You kids need to tell your parents or a trusted adult when strangers are asking you questions like this. People shouldn’t ever be asking you questions like that.”
Rich said that a lot of the cyber-safety issues are starting as innocently as a game of Mine Craft on XBox Live. Then it escalates. Adults know what websites, social media sites, and game rooms kids are using online and they go into those sites with the intention of victimizing children. And parents and trusted adults need to be cautious and aware of what their children are doing and who they are talking to, says Rich.
Having dealt with children and investigations for the past 10 years, Rich realized the huge impact that technology was having on children, not only with their safety, but especially in regards to cyber-bullying. Rich decided to focus his efforts of educating audiences about current trends, real life problems, and solutions for schools, parents, and children. And most importantly, help to address the problems that children are facing using technology and how these pitfalls lead to cyber-bullying.
Bullying is a social dynamic which becomes entrenched over time. It continues outside of school and often intensifies in the workplace. This can carry over into family life and the next generation of children, starting the cycle anew.
According to Rich’s STOPit bullying website, 71 percent of K-12 students have seen or experienced bullying. $16.3 million is the highest settlement due to bullying so far, and 50 U.S. states have introduced an anti-bullying law.
Rich is the ‘original’ creator/founder of a program called ‘Generation Text.’ After having huge success since 2008 with this program, he decided to create ‘Always Connected’ in 2011 and take it to a whole new level. There have been over 700 presentations given and more than 500,000 individuals spoken to across the country.
The purpose of ‘Always Connected’ is to inform law enforcement, educators, administration, youth workers, youth groups, parents, and children of all ages on how to utilize technology in a positive way.
Rich is also the Cyber Safety Expert for STOPit, an award-winning technology company that provides a comprehensive software platform that mitigates, deters, and controls inappropriate conduct and provides organizational transparency.
The company has a mobile app that is simple, fast, and powerful which empowers individuals to protect themselves, others, and the organization or school they are involved with. DOCUMENTit is a robust incident management system that empowers administrators and management to get in front of issues to mitigate risk and adhere to the ever-evolving compliance landscape.
It’s a system and app that Rich insists helps combat bullying, especially in our schools and the system was born out of an incredibly sad experience of bullying.
It was a normal Wednesday drive home from work when STOPit founder Todd Schobel first heard the story of a teen cyber-bullying victim named Amanda Todd on the radio. As Schobel learned the tragic details of the 15-year-old’s suicide, brought on by online predation and the cruel taunting of her peers, he was charged into action. The seed of STOPit was planted.
Schobel believed that in order to make an impact, a cyber-bullying solution had to empower our youth to affect societal change with the very same technology that was being used to inflict hurt online, by giving them a simple, fast, and powerful anonymous tool to give trusted adults a ‘window’ into their virtual world. Enabling trusted adults to get involved before situations escalated was the key to making a difference – and even saving a life.
That is the message Rich wanted to present to the Watford City students and teachers he spoke to last Thursday. Students and kids need to be nice to one another. They need to support each other and get involved. Teachers and adults need to start asking questions and be aware of what is going on in their child’s or student’s life.
“After watching all three presentations at the schools, it’s evident that cyber-bullying and bullying is happening in our community,” said Jeff Ruggles, lead pastor at Cross-Point Church in Watford City and who brought Rich in to speak to the students. “I wanted to bring him here, because we have a problem that needs to be addressed.”