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Nassau CAP Conference Tackles ‘Totally Wired Teens’

If you googled your child, what would you find? This was one of the many questions explored at the Nassau Counselors’ Association—Counselors, Administrators, Parents (CAP)—Conference held April 23, at the Ruth S. Harley University Center on the campus of Adelphi University in Garden City. A chapter of the New York Counseling Association, the NCA is an organization formed to meet the professional needs of individuals working or interested in counseling and human development by presenting a wide variety of programs and activities in these fields.

After welcome addresses from Jacquelyn Nealon, president of the NCA and Mr. Perry Greene, associate provost Faculty Affairs at Adelphi University, the program began with a keynote address entitled Understanding and Reaching Today’s Totally Wired Teens and Tweens by the award winning blogger and often quoted expert on American tweens, teens and early 20-somethings, Anastasia Goodstein. Ms. Goodstein, the author of Totally Wired: What Teens and Tweens are Really Doing Online, is the founder, editor in chief, and vice president of YPulse Media, an independent blog for teen media and marketing professionals. At the conclusion of the keynote speech, the conference attendees broke into smaller workshop presentations, The Youth Social Media Magical Mystery Tour, led by Ms. Goodstein and Keeping Children Safe in Cyberspace, presented by Assistant District Attorney Brian Heid of the Nassau County District Attorney’s Economic Crimes Bureau.

Ms. Goodstein keeps her finger on youth culture and their activities in cyberspace as a professional blogger and expert on the topic of tweens, teens and the wireless media. In an effort to bring a more balanced view to today’s totally wired kids and their use of the Internet and other media, Ms. Goodstein characterizes these technologies as vehicles of expression that tend to amplify behaviors that have always been present during adolescence. To further illustrate the point, Ms. Goodstein discussed various tools available to children, such as cell phones, computers, MP3 players and gaming devices, and how kids are using these technologies to stay connected with friends, for social networking, to hang out away from parents, for seeking validation and exploring and establishing self identification, which is nothing new for children and young adults in this age group.

But what happens when unflattering images or information are let loose into cyberspace or these new technologies are used to harass and torment other children? “We have to teach our kids to be their own public relations crisis managers,” suggests Ms. Goodstein, in order to correct digital mistakes. Many times teens and tweens are impulsive and post videos, pictures and other media without considering or fully understanding the consequences. Once these images, data or media are posted, they become digitally and publically available, not only to other teens but to prospective employers and college recruiters. If unflattering images, data or other information is out on the Internet, it cannot be removed. Ms. Goodstein suggests counteracting these images with positive imagery and publicity in hopes that the positive information will push the negative images lower on any searches, the idea being to push the negative so far down on the search results list that it becomes less relevant and viewed less frequently.

Ms. Goodstein calls cyber-bullying “the new bathroom wall” that allows individuals to say things they otherwise wouldn’t in person. In this 24/7 world of texting, posting and live chat, the tormenting can continue day and night and once something is out there and goes “viral,” it leaves a digital footprint and cannot be taken down or taken back. The topic of cyber-bullying and e-harassment was discussed in-depth in the cyberspace safety workshop led by ADA Brian Heid. Mr. Heid discussed the illegality of certain types of activities on line, such as e-harassment, criminal impersonation, trickery, sexting, which can result in charges for distributing child pornography, and piracy, the illegal theft of music, movies and video. Mr. Heid emphasized the lack of anonymity on the Internet and gave several examples of cases where law enforcement was able to locate and follow the digital footprint of persons conducting illegal activity on line. Mr. Heid observed that victims of cyber crimes can display negative responses to the abuse such as feelings of anger, hurt, embarrassment or fear. Victims may avoid friends and activities they used to enjoy, and in some cases, cause themselves harm. Sometimes victims will seek revenge against the bully and become bullies themselves.

However, Mr. Heid also offered positive approaches to dealing with e-harassment, such as blocking communication with the bully, deleting negative postings or e-mails without reading them, reaching out to a friend, counselor or adult for help, and reporting abuse to the appropriate ISP or website administrators/moderators or local law enforcement, if the circumstances dictate. Mr. Heid also recommends that you contact law enforcement immediately if you receive any text message or e-mail containing images which may be deemed child pornography and cautions not to forward the image to anyone. Anyone who forwards these images is just as responsible under the law as the picture taker and can be prosecuted.

As parents and responsible adults, how can we properly supervise our kids in the cyber world? Ms. Goodstein offers the following tips to parents, caregivers and educators:

• Talk to your kids about where they hang out on line. Engage in conversation to get a sense of their digital lives, where they are going in cyberspace before you have the “don’t” conversation.

• Ask your children about privacy settings and whether they know how to protect their privacy. Never rely on default settings because many of these sites want you to be visible. Teach your children how to make themselves invisible on line.

• Act as a guide to help locate and evaluate credible Internet sources for homework and fun.

• Set limits and help your children focus and balance their Internet use by limiting multitasking and establishing a set time when all media should be shut down.

• Teach your teen cyber ethics. Explain and discuss what is different about on-line bullying, the public nature of the net, plagiarism and cheating.

• Know their buddies. Go through your child’s IM list with them and have them tell you who everyone is on the list. If your child asks to meet an on-line friend, insist on going with them.

• Encourage your child to tell you when something bad happens on line and to report abuse on websites to the appropriate authorities. Be a good cyber citizen.

• Discuss appropriate use of media, such as when phones need to be placed on silent or not posting pictures or video of other people online without first gaining their permission before it’s posted.

• Encourage active reputation management through student blogging, portfolio sites, appropriate e-mail handles and active use of privacy settings.

There is more information for parents and educators at www.ypulse.com/totally-wired-resourses. ADA Heid also suggested the following websites for more information on cyber bullying and internet safety: www.ncpc.org; www.cyberbulling.us; www.stopcyberbullying.org; www.wired safety.com; and www.stopbullyingnow.com.