WILLISTON — With bullying-related suicides on the rise throughout the U.S., Williston area schools have been meeting to discuss a new cyberbullying deterrent app, STOPit, that would be a proactive measure to counter the growing trend.
Through a collaborative effort from the Dakota Family Solutions and the Williston Elks Lodge No. 1214, Sergeant and Cyber Safety Expert, Tom Rich, was brought in to address parents and teachers at a STOPit bullying prevention rally to better protect the next generation some have dubbed, “the lost generation.”
“Popularity begins and ends here,” said Rich holding up his cellphone. “I don’t think this is ‘the lost generation,’ I think this generation is technology.”
Rich has been making the rounds to area schools educating children about online safety and the effects of cyberbullying.
Tuesday night at the ARC it was the adults’ turn to share in the knowledge as he showed how easy it is for predators to access information about their children using popular online apps.
Horror crossed parents faces as Rich showed how by utilizing his Instagram account the app pinpointed his exact location earlier that day, simply by posting a picture from Williston High School.
“I can find out from here where your kid goes to school,” said Rich. “And then I can follow them home. And then I can choose to either take them, their little brother or sister, or their neighbor.”
Safety was a big portion but Rich’s main focus of the evening was the epidemic of bullying and the close link of child suicide as a result.
According to the CDC, suicide is the second leading cause of death for ages 15-24 years old with suicide four times higher in boys but with girls attempting it three times as often.
“Kids are in Crisis for many reasons all over the country and unfortunately — most of times they don’t know where to turn for help,” said Rich. “STOPit is helping to prevent kids from harming themselves and it is giving them a place to turn 24 hours a day 7 days a week with its HELP feature.”
Students can text information through the app to submit a screen captured photo of online bullying, or to ask a welfare check of another student. It works congruently with social media apps, texting and any other method kids use to communicate.
After a student has submitted a message it is sent to STOPit’s cloud-based system that gives the information to the school’s counselors or administrators.
Some of the schools currently provide a number where students can text information but it is seldom used because it lacks anonymity since the student’s phone number will be shown in the text message.
Administrators and counselors in the Williston area have been in meetings to discuss if it is something they all want to come together to utilize.
Stony Creek Middle School Principal, Steve Guglich said his school would be one that will be trying out the app.
“At a couple dollars a child, I can definitely get that out of my budget,” said Guglich.
With more students on board it becomes more cost effective for schools but still ranges between $1-3 per student, according to Senior Account Executive, Mercedes Smith.
For schools with a larger student populations, community members are eager to provide financial backing to help offset the cost, according to Assistant Director of Dakota Family Solutions, Valerie Goldade.
“Kids need to know they have a support system,” Rich said.