More than 200 teachers, administrators, parents and students gathered at South Side Middle School on Feb. 21 to learn how to protect themselves and their loved ones from the dangers of the cyberspace.
Sponsored by the Drug and Alcohol Violence Prevention Task Force in Rockville Centre, the presentation was jointly given by Ron Gerber, the founder of Angelbeat, the largest Information Technology (IT) event company in North America and Jack McArtney, Director of Corporate and Community Responsibility at Verizon. The two men were both introduced by Hempstead Town Councilman Anthony Santino and Assemblyman Brian Curran, a Republican from Lynbrook.
Gerber stressed to parents the importance of taking a substantial amount of time to monitor their children’s Internet usage.
“Think about what’s going to happen when your kids get their first car,” Gerber explained. “We’re all going to have long talks with them about when to drive, what are the appropriate rules… It’s a very big thing and it’s a very big right of passage when you give your child their first cell phone or their first email account.”
One of the most important roles of the parent, Gerber said, is to stay active in the lives of the children. He also said that for the kids themselves, its vital to truly think about a message before it is sent via text or posted online.
“You want to think really carefully before you do that to make sure it’s the right thing you want to do,” Gerber advised. “Would you really say that to your friend Joey if you’re right next to him? One of the key golden rules is to think before you hit that send button because once you hit that send button, it’s out of your control.”
Gerber also said that students who see something wrong should stop it before it gets out of hand and inform an adult.
Jack McArtney lent his expertise with new technology to the presentation — he was part of the team that helped launch SMS (text) messaging for Verizon more than 12 years ago.
McArtney said that Verizon has a number of online-safety resources and tools, including television and Internet parental controls. He also described a program called the Platform for Good, which creates a place online where parents, teachers and students can learn not only about how to stay safe online, but what can be done to make Internet use better through integrating technology into their lives. One example of the possibilities of Platform for good was the use of social media in community service for students.
McArtney provided statistics on phone and Internet usage that drew audible gasps from the audience. According to McArtney, children spend 7.5 hours online per day and send approximately 3,500 text messages a week, which corresponds to seven messages every waking hour.
“It’s how kids talk,” McArtney said. “They don’t talk on the phone, they don’t call one another. This is how they communicate. And most of it is, again, very, very good. Useful. Most kids report that they have broader and better relationships when they communicate with friends.”
Among the tactics McArtney suggested to control Internet usage and ensure safety online was to disallow technology at the dinner table and to teach children about online piracy and privacy.
“The most important thing within a family is to establish guidelines for the family on how much is too much, when is the appropriate time and not the appropriate time to use text messaging and social media,” McArtney said. “And also to know when is the right time to just be there to listen to your kids and ask them how it’s going.”
McArtney also advised parents to be careful choosing passwords and to use different passwords for various accounts.
During a question-and-answer session, Rockville Centre Police Commissioner Charles Gennario drove home the reality of online dangers.
“It’s real out there, folks,” Gennario said. “You are at risk, and your children are at risk from online predators, and that’s what we talk to the kids about.”