The stories of teens and young students being harassed on the Internet continue to dominate the news. In fact, the Crimes against Children Research Center Youth Internet Safety Survey (YISS) cites a 50 percent increase in online harassment.
To help parents keep their children safe from these threats and more, the Office of Safe Environment for the Archdiocese of New Orleans has created a “Stay Informed, Stay Involved” multi-media campaign involving radio and television commercials and talks at schools. The campaign runs this month during Prevent Child Abuse Awareness Month.
“We are experiencing the children having difficulties with their relationships with each other in ‘sexting’ and texting, cyber-bullying,” said Sister of Mount Carmel Mary Ellen Wheelahan, safe environment coordinator for the archdiocese. “So we want to get the word out not only to the child but the parents. The parents have to get involved and check the social networking sites, their children’s iPhones, and the log of the calls so they know who the children are talking to and what they are saying.”
Partnering to spread info
Sister Mary Ellen also has teamed up with the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office Cyber Crime Unit to give a Powerpoint presentation about texting, sexting and cyberbullying to parents and students in elementary and high schools and at parishes.
“They drive the point very clear that who you think you’re speaking to online isn’t necessarily who you are speaking to,” she said. “Students’ eyes get real big when they see the photos (Net Smarts from the Center for Missing and Exploited Children).
We tell them how to protect their identity online, to take care when they are taking pictures of themselves and make sure they are aware of what’s behind them – the background – so they are not giving away information of who they are or where they are and to check their privacy setting on Internet.”
TV and radio spots
Sister Mary Ellen said the locally produced commercial features Archbishop Gregory Aymond and high school students. It airs on Cox television channels in Louisiana, Lifetime, and on KYRK (104.1 FM); WQUE (93.3 FM) and WNOE (101.1) radio.
She said because social media is changing so rapidly and serious crimes against children are occurring, the importance of getting this message out prompted spending approximately $25,000 on this campaign. She mentioned a recent incident in Shreveport where a young teen sent a cab driver to pick up who he thought was a 13-year-old girl he was communicating online with, when in fact it was the adult cab driver who then abducted and killed him.
“The children just aren’t paying attention to what they are doing and to whom they are speaking,” she said. “They think they are safe because nobody is seeing them.”
Parents must stay vigilant
She said parents must be vigilant and check what their children are doing on the Internet and cell phones.
“We just have to try to keep up with what’s going on so we can protect the children,” she said. “They think nobody can see them, so they are safe. I love the quote from Pope Benedict: ‘We have to see the eyes of Christ.’ Even if we use electronic means, we have to know that the person on the other end is a child of God and deserves respect. There is so much we can do to protect the children, but parents have to get involved and commit themselves to checking on a regular basis to know what’s going on with their children.”
A 2008 study performed by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and Cosmogirl.com said that 20 percent of teens have electronically sent nude or seminude pictures or videos of themselves, Sister Wheelahan said. Through the public service announcements the archdiocese aims to warn parents about these actions and the consequences of sending and receiving these pictures – the most serious of which is jail time.
In observance of “Prevent Child Abuse Awareness Month,” Archbishop Aymond celebrated a special Mass at St. Louis Cathedral April 18 at 11 a.m. “It’s our responsibility at the archdiocese to give parents the appropriate tools and to educate their children in safe, nurturing environments,” Sister Mary Ellen said.
View the TV spots: http://www.arch-no.org/media/
Printed with permission from the Clarion Herald, newspaper for the Archdiocese of New Orleans.