When most people first became aware of it in the mid-1990s, the World Wide Web promised to provide us with a universe of information.
People all over the world could communicate with each other instantly. Academics and scientists could share their research on vital questions.
Anyone who ventured on the “information highway” could access many files and websites. We had entered a new era of interaction and we had good reason to believe that it would be extremely beneficial to us.
And in the nearly three decades since it became a cultural phenomenon, the internet has enriched us in so many ways. News of important events can be shared with millions of people in seconds. Social movements are gaining substantial momentum much faster than before – and all of this has changed the world.
But this easy access to endless information has its drawbacks. It is often difficult to know if what is presented is true or not. And predators hide in the shadows waiting to prey on the most vulnerable.
Children are at great risk when online. They spend a lot of time in cyberspace playing games, watching videos, reading websites, and interacting with strangers. Who knows what they digest in their free time?
The growing popularity of social media can be cause for concern. Young people are often overwhelmed when communicating with large groups of individuals and conversations spiral out of control.
Children may also come to believe that online interactions are the most important they will ever have. For many of them, their emotions are driven by the number of likes one of their posts receives or the number of subscribers they attract.
Additionally, we have come across tragic stories of young people dying as a result of online experiences. Incited by a video they are watching, they can adopt dangerous behavior. Or they may feel tricked by someone extorting money from them by exploiting the sensitive information they sent.
These stories have been heartbreaking – and there are no easy answers. We can’t just turn off the internet, but neither can we monitor everything kids are consuming.
To identify resources that can alleviate some of these issues, a coalition of authorities is seeking feedback from parents and children about their perceptions of online safety. Members of this group represent many reputable organizations and want to help young people solve very difficult problems.
This Internet Safety and Mental Health Task Force includes the Jefferson County Youth Bureau, Children’s Home of Jefferson County, Arc, Jefferson-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services, local law enforcement, Jefferson County Community Services and the Department of Social Services, Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization, Cornell Cooperative Extension, Northern Regional Center for Independent Living, ACR Health, Victims Assistance Center, North Country Planned Parenthood, YMCA and Youth Alliance of Jefferson County/Alliance for Better Communities . Members created two surveys — one for 13-18 year olds and one for parents — to find out what young people watch online and how they use the information.
Parents can access the survey intended for them on http://wdt.me/aKDFVyand young people can answer the survey created for them on http://wdt.me/89m7Xa. Respondents to surveys will not be asked to reveal their identity. The deadline for both is May 6.
“It’s going to give us real-time data,” Nabywaniec said in the article. “And I think that’s important because new social media is popping up every day. We don’t necessarily have an idea of what’s dangerous for our children and what isn’t until it’s too late. And then you see these horrible stories of sextortion or other things going on, so we’re very happy to finish the investigation and start working with the data. Our goal is to have really strong education, training and community outreach elements in August, September when school resumes.
We encourage people to participate in these surveys to help the Task Force get the information it needs. Members will make good use of this information and better understand what young people are going through. This will lead to constructive policies and hopefully safer online engagements.