When you have a special someone in your life, Valentine’s Day is a fun time to celebrate; it’s a day of flowers, candy, and time together out on a date. It is a day intended to help us express how much that special person means to us.
When I was a youngster in the late 1960’s, I hand-wrote notes on paper cut out Valentine’s cards for each person in my class. And I will always remember those classmates who gave me the Sweetheart Candies–oh, how I liked those little sweet hearts of goodness.
Today, Valentine’s Day feelings are often expressed in a much more high tech way. With a smart phone, kids can “poke,” “like” and even “flirt” with a classmate through social media sites. They can instantaneously text message each other using abbreviations I couldn’t hope to translate, or use “Snap Chat” so their text messaging will not be recorded; and if they really like each other, they can send a “selfie” (picture of themselves) from their phone.
This Valentine’s Day, along with all these ways to communicate, teens can also be exposed to things we would never have imagined in the 1960’s (or even the 70’s or 80’s), like social bullying via “sexting.”
Ukiah Police Department’s School Resource Officer, Vince Morse, attended a digital safety training at the Yahoo headquarters, where he learned about the tragic story suicide of a teenage girl who committed suicide with no history of mental illness. She simply didn’t know how to deal with the situation when a sexually explicit photograph of her was shared among boys at her school. For a teenager with little life experience, being involved in something like this was truly overwhelming. She didn’t have enough perspective to see any option but ending her life.
Some parents might think their kids are safe from cyber-bullying because they don’t have smart phones, but today kids become fluent in the use of the Internet at an early age: they use it for schoolwork, as well as to share information with friends and family using social media. Even without a phone, kids can be at risk for cyber-bullying.
So how can parents tell if their child is the victim of online bullying? The same symptoms apply whether bullying is online or not. If your child’s grades plummet, if your child disconnects with friends, quits activities he or she has enjoyed, doesn’t want to go to school or is suddenly “sick enough to stay home” much of the time, ask your child what’s going on. Let your son or daughter know that there is nothing too terrible to share with you, whether it’s drugs, sex, violence, or something else. Promise to listen to their opinions without judging.
If you would like more information about how to help your teen stay safe online, check out these websites:
Yahoo! Safely Yahoo! - Includes resources on how to make smart and safer choices online, as well as how to use Internet products safely. http://safely.yahoo.com/
Platform for Good - A project of the Family Online Safety Institute, the platform helps teachers, parents, and teens connect, share and do good online. http://www.aplatformforgood.org/
Common Sense Media - This national non-profit organization provides research, parenting advice, a digital citizenship curriculum, and an independent media rating system for television, games, movies, books, music, websites and apps. http://www.commonsensemedia.org/
iKeepSafe - iKeepSafe guides parents on how to approach new media in safe and healthy ways, and helps families define success for youth online. http://www.ikeepsafe.org/
I hope everyone has a Valentine with whom to share this weekend, but if you are feeling hopeless or helpless—or know someone who is—please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). They understand social bullying, and are available to help those who need someone to talk to no matter what the reason.
As always, our mission at UPD is simple: to make Ukiah as safe as possible. If you have suggestions on how we can improve please feel free to call me. If you would like to know more about crime in your neighborhood, you can sign up for telephone, cell phone and email notifications by clicking the Nixle button on our website: www.ukiahpolice.com.