North Bergen’s school district welcomed members of the Hudson County Sheriff's Department to Lincoln School on Friday, Jan. 11 for an Internet Safety Presentation to educate students on safe internet practices, cyberbullying and other relevant topics.
"At this young age, it's very important they learn about the predators that are out there [in cyberspace]," said Hudson County Sheriff Frank Schillari. "It's important we teach them the possibilities of what could happen and how to protect themselves from it."
The presentation was conducted by Hudson County Detectives Jean Roman and Tori Carter for students in sixth grade through high school. Roman, who was in charge of the seminar, discussed some of the dangers that students often overlook and preventive ways to avoid them. Some of the many topics discussed were texting, using social networks wisely and cyberbullying.
"Programs like this are very important to the local schools," said Sheriff Schillari.
The seminar began with Detective Roman asking probing questions, such as what electronic devices the students have. The majority of the students often had more than one electronic device that has internet access. Roman said although there are many great aspects of the internet, dangers also lurk in cyberspace.
“I think there's a lack of understanding to how damaging [the internet] could be.” – Mayor Nicholas Sacco
"You don't know who's copying [pictures], who's saving it," said Roman.
Roman also mentioned that when students put their address on social networking sites they open the door to potential predators pursuing them. When he asked how many students have their online profiles set to private, the majority of the filled auditorium raised their hands. Roman said he saw a large improvement from last year, when many had their profiles set to public view.
The laws have been attempting to keep up with the new wave of bullying through cyber space, which freedom of speech at times makes difficult to combat. What makes cyberbullying a broader issue is not only the possibility of it occurring while on school grounds but also off.
According to NJ.gov, research shows that 50 percent of kids are online most of the time without adult supervision. A Cyber Crimes Unit that is funded by the federal government has been established to investigate cyberbullying cases.
"The laws haven't caught up with all the problems," said Mayor Nicholas Sacco, who is also the assistant superintendent of schools. "I think there's a lack of understanding to how damaging [the internet] could be. There's a familiarity that people have on the internet. A young person often doesn't have the social skills to deal with [cyberbullying]."
Online users often make themselves vulnerable to the pitfalls of the internet by sharing too much information or posting something they shouldn't have.
"It's very important for them to understand the consequences and this way they don't get in trouble," said Detective Roman. "It's important to target the younger group so they realize if they have a problem they can talk to us."
"Kids don't realize what type of consequences they may be facing," said Detective Carter.
Carter urged parents to stay involved and monitor their child's internet habits in order to avoid potential problems. However, she said she was aware there is a learning curve for some parents who aren't as familiar with electronic devices as their children. Carter encouraged students to view their list of online friends on any social networks and eliminate those who they are unfamiliar with as well as those who they don't communicate with.
Detective Roman wanted students to know they can approach law enforcement officers like himself if they need to report any internet safety issues.
"It's important to show a police presence and a liaison to come talk to us, to not feel intimidated to go to a police car or police station," said Roman.
He told students they can talk to guidance counselors, the anti-bullying specialist, teachers, principals, and their parents as well.
Roman also told students to save any evidence of cyberbullying to show authorities.
"It's important to get into this topic and make them aware that they have outlets," said Mayor Sacco.
Throughout the school year, the schools amplify the lessons taught at the yearly presentation through programs such as DARE, conflict resolution, ambassadors, mentoring and peer mediation.
Vanessa Cruz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org