I returned to Our Lady of Malibu on Thursday for my second visit. Here is what we talked about:
4th Grade – Goal Boosters
This visit we talked about friends. Why is it important to choose good friends? What do you look for in a good friend? Do you hold yourself to those standards? These are all questions I asked the kiddos to think about.
Most elementary school kids get along with each other, but as these kids get older and move on to larger schools, the group each kid surrounds themselves with becomes more and more important. During my years in the STAR Program, I have seen numerous students help themselves by having a good group of friends, and I have seen kids put into bad situations over and over again just because they were hanging out with the wrong people.
To emphasize this message, I have two skits for the class act out. I am the narrator, and the students have to act out the actions that I announce (for example, if I say that the student enjoys playing the violin, the actor must mimic playing a violin). The skits are about a boy named Gunther, and how his friends react to him as he tries to accomplish a personal goal. Some of his friends mock him, some try to distract him and some are helpful. The punchline of the 2nd skit suggest a possible date for Gunther, and it always brings down the house and turns some faces red (which is always fun).
5th Grade – Communication and Internet Safety
I talked to the 5th Grade about the proper use of electronic devices. By 5th grade, the vast majority of kids have their own cell phones and/or computers, tablets, video game consoles or some other online device, and not every kid understands what a big responsibility using those devices has become.
There are at least two or three examples of inappropriate behavior using electronics every year at the various schools I teach at, and I shared with the kids a few of these stories and the consequences that ensued. Whether its an inappropriate picture, a disrespectful or outright mean message or some other inappropriate behavior, the kids need to understand that anything sent out electronically has the potential to be seen by anyone and everyone. They also need to know there are consequences for inappropriate use of electronics that could include restrictions, suspensions, expulsions and even arrests. With that in mind, I gave the students the following rules:
- If you have something important to say, say it in person (if at all possible).
- If you wouldn’t say something to a person face to face, you shouldn’t send it electronically.
- Don’t send any pictures or messages that you wouldn’t be comfortable showing your parents, grandparents or teachers.
6th Grade – Decision Making
The topic of the day in 6th Grade was decision making. As the kids grow up, they gain the power and responsibility to make decisions for themselves, and we started by talking about how peer pressure can sometimes make it hard to make a good decision or how we sometimes make bad decisions when we let our emotions get the best of us.
That discussion led to a quick decision making exercise where the kids stand up or sit down based on the choices I give them (stand up for cake, sit down for pie, etc). Many of the kids got very worked up over the arbitrary choices I was throwing out, so when I was done I asked them to imagine how it would go if they were making decisions for real. I suggested to them that it might be a good idea to spend a little time thinking ahead to the typical situations we all go through from time to time (moments where peer pressure comes in to play) so that they have an idea of what they want to do when they are in that situation for real. If they think about how they would want to act beforehand, then they have a better chance of making a good decision (and not freezing up) when it counts.
We spent the remainder of class talking about a scenario involving a theft. A girl named Janet steals money at a convenience store. What are the consequences of her decision to steal? Is the risk worth the reward?
After some relevant personal stories about finding lost property, the class talked about why Janet should not have taken the money. First, $20 is absolutely not worth the consequences Janet faces if she gets caught. Secondly, even without thinking about the consequences, Janet shouldn’t take the money because stealing is wrong. We finished the scenario with a skit about Janet that involves 5 students, a gavel and some handcuffs. Lot’s of fun was had by all.
I finished the class by emphasizing that we should make decisions based on:
- what is the right thing to do, and
- what is the risk vs what is the reward involved.
We should always try to make decisions first on “what’s the right thing to do?” By 6th grade all of the kids know what they should or should not be doing as long as they take a moment to think about it first.
7th/8th Grade – Overexposed
I also talked to the 7th and 8th graders about the responsible use of their devices. I asked them what their favorite apps and online activities were and talked to them about the same rules I mentioned with the 5th grade.
This is a topic that wouldn’t have to be discussed on a middle school campus 10 years ago, but nowadays every kid has a cell phone or at least daily access to the internet. There have been incidents at every school I visit regarding the inappropriate use of an internet device or cell phone, and most of the kids getting in trouble are in the 7th and 8th grade.
In case you were not aware, the current laws in California are harsh when it comes to content that could be used as child pornography. These codes may change in the future to differentiate between adults and minor violators, but here is the current state of the law:
- Penal Code 311.1 and 311.2 make it a crime to knowingly send, transport, produce, possess or duplicate any child pornography, with intent to distribute it;
- Penal Code 311.3 (“sexual exploitation of a child”) makes it a crime to knowingly develop, duplicate, print or exchange any child pornography;
- Penal Code 311.4 makes it a crime to knowingly hire, employ, use, persuade, or coerce a minor to participate in the production of child pornography;
- Penal Code 311.11 makes it a crime to knowingly possess or control any child pornography that was produced using a person under 18.
These laws would typically apply to an adult that produces, possesses or distribute this type of content, but it also applies to minors that take pictures of themselves or convince others to send inappropriate pictures. Kids that text, post or show these photos to others are breaking a very serious law. Even worse, each picture and each instance of sharing is a separate crime.
The penalties for youth sharing content like this is severely harsh. Depending on the content and the circumstances, the charges could be either misdemeanors or felonies, but the most damaging penalty is mandatory registration on the Sex Offender Database (which requires mandatory reporting for 10 years to life depending on the severity of the offense).
Generally speaking, if two kids get caught sharing inappropriate pictures, it is technically a crime under the laws cited above, but the issue would likely get resolved on the family or school level. However, once the photos start getting passed around (which unfortunately happens frequently) the likelihood of it becoming a criminal matter raises substantially. A child could potentially end up as a sex registrant at 12 years old.
I also talked to the kids about the general risks involved in producing and sending sensitive information or inappropriate photos out into cyberspace. At any moment there are crooks and predators online looking to exploit someone’s thoughtless mistake or over-risky behavior. Transmissions from phones are hacked all the time.
Former FBI Profiler Dr. Lisa Strohman cites numerous incidents of Latvian and Croatian hackers capturing “sext” photos from various US teens and selling/distributing them on the dark web and tech-savvy thieves can monitor and steal cell phone transmissions. Noone cares what you want for dinner or what time you want to meet at the movie theater, but underwear pics and credit card numbers will draw unwanted attention.
Whether the creep is a stranger or a classmate, predators will employ strong pressure tactics to persuade or coerce a victim into sending revealing information. It is not safe for a teen to communicate with strangers online (which is usually the draw), and oftentimes the trap is set with small relatively innocuous details that the teen shares. By the time the predator asks for more revealing information or content, they already have small trove of information about the victim to threaten exposing the relationship to family or fiends. Obviously, the child should go directly to their parents, but that pressure is too much for some kids. Sadly, we also see this tactic being used by teens on other teens. One kid sends a revealing photo, and the recipient threatens to post the photos online if they don’t receive more.
I finished the class by sharing general descriptions of some recent incidents at local schools that have similar facts to what was detailed above.
Suggestions for Parents:
- Be a Snoop – Pay attention to how your child uses their internet enabled devices. Have rules about when and how they use them. You have every right to snoop in their room, phone, and backpack as much as you see fit, and if you perceive any warning signs don’t be afraid to investigate. Trust your instincts.
- Have a system – If you don’t have some sort of monitoring software, have a regular protocol for checking your child’s phone or device. If you don’t have anything to be suspicious about, give them a little more rope, but don’t stop checking entirely.
- Know the Apps on Your kids Phone – Does your 12 year old need Instagram? What about those Chat-Snaps on the Snap-Chat? My answer is a resounding NO, but that’s for you to decide. Is there an App on the phone that you’ve never heard of? Check it out, so you can assess the potential risk.
- Know the Passwords – Whatever you allow your child’s online profile to be, you are entitled to monitor all of it. Have a list of their passwords, so you can access whatever you need to one that device whenever you feel the need. If they aren’t comfortable with that, too bad.
Remember the things you were thinking in middle school? Now imagine that you had access to all the information in the world and could talk to or send anything to anyone in couple button pushes. Our kids need guidance, structure and accountability. Please give it to them.