Submitted by Sue Baldauf, Director, Bedford Youth and Family Services
Last week I had the privilege of attending a Middlesex Partnerships for Youth Spring Prevention Conference titled “Evolving Technology: Effective School Investigations and Cyber Safety.” Middlesex Partnerships for Youth, (MPY) is a 501(c)(3) organization sponsored by the Office of Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan and which provides training, fosters collaboration, and develops initiatives to increase students’ safety, health, and learning in Middlesex County, Massachusetts.
The core mission of MPY is to provide prevention and intervention strategies in matters of health and safety for youth. MPY is committed to bringing cutting edge information and high quality trainings to our constituents. Working in collaboration with the Middlesex District Attorney Ryan, MPY endeavors to provide solution-oriented, community-based, multi-disciplinary approaches to reducing and ideally eliminating risky behaviors for youth. Every public school district in Middlesex County, including Bedford, of course, is a member of MPY. Many public charter schools and private schools are also members.
The conference featured FBI Intelligence Analyst Scott Brown discussing cyber crimes and social media, Middlesex Assistant District Attorney Bethany Stevens focused on school search and seizure, and Assistant District Attorney Michelle Margolis presenting on Teens and sexting. The audience was primarily concerned about the prevalence of websites that allow for anonymous posting and lead to cyber bullying and “sexting,” or sending/receiving/forwarding sexually explicit messages, photos, images via cell phone, computer, or other digital device. Assistant DA Margolis focused on sexting being a crime, violating child pornography laws if anyone under 18 was involved.
FBI Analyst Brown highlighted the most dangerous apps for youth, largely due to their anonymity. He said 4chan, reddit, tor, yikyak, and kik were among the ones teens were most attracted to, among the several listed and mentioned. Identities on these sites can be hidden and often threats can be sent anonymously so that it is hard to identify the sender. Brown urged parents to do a social search of their child’s cell phone to determine their appropriate use of technology. He also urged increased education of girls age 13 or even younger to age 18 to prevent their being victimized in the cyber world.
The DA’s office recommended resources form several websites to help parents teach their children about staying safe with technology. Included was www.ConnectSafely.org , www.commonsense.org , www.NetSmartz.org/TipSheets , and www.Crosswalk.com . Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center at Bridgewater State University also is well known for its great youth and parent information about bullying in general and cyber safety in particular.
Bedford Youth and Family Services (YFS) and Bedford Public Schools are planning a couple of parent events related to cyber safety for the fall back to school nights at the middle school and high school. Stay tuned for more specifics about those upcoming programs and feel free to contact the Police, the Schools, or YFS if you have specific questions. Working together we can keep our children and youth cyber safe.
Keeping the Peace is sponsored by the Violence Prevention Coalition of Bedford, a representative group of citizens interested in ending violence in families, communities, and beyond. Sue Baldauf is Director of Bedford Youth and Family Services, a constituent member of VPC.
The VPC meets the first Tuesday of every other month at 8:00 a.m. at First Church of Christ Congregational, 25 the Great Road, Bedford. For more information call 781/275-7951.