2009-04-15 / Local News

Middle-schoolers held accountable for decisions involving cell phone use

by JESSICA L. FINCH Associate Editor

New York State troopers John Campanella, left, and Joe DePlato address the dangers of the Internet and "sexting" with Casey Middle School eighth-graders on March 31. The program is designed to make youths accountable for their decisions. Photo by Jim Smerecak Purchase color photos at www.BeeNews.com New York State troopers John Campanella, left, and Joe DePlato address the dangers of the Internet and "sexting" with Casey Middle School eighth-graders on March 31. The program is designed to make youths accountable for their decisions. Photo by Jim Smerecak Purchase color photos at www.BeeNews.com Casey Middle School Home and Career Skills teacher Ronna Glickman is taking a new approach to cell phone and Internet safety — making her students accountable for their actions.

Glickman recently had two New York State troopers, John Campanella and Joe DePlato, speak to her class about the dangers and consequences of material young people send through their phones.

Some of these actions involve "sexting" a term that refers to minors sending sexual photos of themselves.

Parents should be invested in their children's technology use, Glickman said, but she believes her eighth-graders should understand the full extent of putting inappropriate photos online or sending them on their phone.

"We do teach about Internet safety; now it's expanding to cell phone safety," Glickman said. "What happens, usually, is kids get phones and don't get a lesson on using them."

She added that parents don't know to check their children's cell phones or don't do it.

She said the troopers' lesson is that the students have their whole lives in front of them and decisions made now could cause problems down the road.

"Once you send a picture that is inappropriate, you can't get it back," she said. "Once it is out there, anyone can do anything they want with it."

Because the school year is already half over, Glickman had the troopers speak only to her eighth-graders but plans to have the presentation for all grades next year.

The troopers explained to students that their actions might get them in trouble or put them at risk.

Campanella is a 24-year veteran with the State Police and is the school and community outreach coordinator.

"We are seeing an increase of this in all schools," he said about cell phone abuse. "Obviously a lot of texting goes on, and sometimes it can be a harassing message or a student taking improper pictures of themselves."

The issue is twofold; youths who are being harassed through texting or the Internet or are putting themselves at risk through inappropriate photos or information.

In dealing with cyber bullying, students are told to contact an adult when they receive harassing messages.

Glickman said the presentation was extremely worthwhile and some students spoke with her on the matter. She hopes it sent a message about the implications.

"Now, bullying can be a 24-hour thing. A student's safe haven was home; now it's everywhere," she said about being harassed by cell phones and on the Internet.

During the presentation, she said she saw students' facial expression change, some showing embarrassment, that they knew these activities were happening.

Glickman said the issue can be a catch-22; students who report a problem fear it may become worse for them. She added that Casey has a strong anti-bullying program, and advisers are trained to deal with the issue.

DePlato is a school resource officer at Iroquois Central High School and understands the issues teens are facing. He sees them every day.

Following the presentations, students have come forward with their problems, Campanella said, adding that others closed their Facebook or MySpace accounts after thinking about the ramifications.

He also shares the story of a student who lost a four-year scholarship to an accredited college because of photos on her Facebook that showed underage drinking and drug paraphernalia.

Sending inappropriate photos and messages can also lead to charges of aggravated harassment. Depending on the circumstances, photos can also be considered endangering the welfare of a child, or child pornography — a felony.

Campanella said inappropriate use of cell phones and the Internet is one of the biggest issues facing schools. Parents and educators should continue to monitor their use, in school and at home.

Educators who wish to schedule a presentation can call the state troopers at (585) 343-2200.

e-mail: jfinch@beenews.com

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