Over the past eighteen months of presenting our Internet and Social Media Safety program to more than 65,000 Jr and Sr high-school students in the province of British Columbia, as well as to hundreds of educators and parents, it is amazing how this program has now morphed into something more. Not only has our program become a trusted resource for reality based Internet and Social Media safety education, we have now also become a “social outreach” resource, or what we like to call a “Digital White Hatter”, for these same students, teachers and parents who connect with us directly looking for:
- help given that they are being targeted for digital peer aggression in all its forms.
- help with sexting that has gone wrong
- help with on-line drama
- help with security challenges surrounding social networks and how to strengthen these challenges
- help with protecting their digital dossier
- help with on-line identity theft and other criminal matters
Never in my wildest dreams did I think that our program would have the effect that it has had, and that it would change the lives of so many students. As of the writing of this posting, we have saved 19 young people who were either:
- contemplating suicide as an option because of digital peer aggression or sexting gone wrong challenges,
- were actually in the process of committing suicide because of digital peer aggression or sexting gone wrong challenges, or
- were “self cutting” as a coping mechanism given the emotional and psychological challenges surrounding digital peer aggression.
All 19 students reached out to us for help on-line, after hearing our school presentation, and in each and every case we were able to help.
Why has our program had such a positive impact:
- When we present, we speak with the students and not at the students
- We are reality based and pull no punches when we present, we are open and honest with the students and this is something that they all appreciate
- Given our background (law enforcement) we can bring a reality to many of the challenges and consequences that the Internet and Social Networking can have on students. We, like the students that we present to, are digital citizens. This fact gives us “real-world” and “cyber-world” credibility as an adult who students can trust and turn to for help.
- The “honest” passion that we bring to our presentation is contagious. We are able to connect with students at an emotional, psychological and even a physical level.
What is even more amazing; students don’t just want to help themselves, but also their friends and peers who need help as well. Students are becoming “digital gatekeepers” or what I like to call “digital first responders”. When they see a friend in trouble, they too will reach out to help another student and when they can no longer do so, they will reach out to people like us for further guidance and/or help as long as they:
- Are given the ability and resource to do so. and,
- Have the “trust” in the resource that they reach out to that they will help, rather than just pay lip service.
Recently, a high-school student was conversing on-line with a peer in a Social Network , and became aware that his friend was becoming suicidal. While messaging back and forth, this student further learned that his friend had now taken several pills in a clear attempt to take her life. Not knowing what to do, this student immediately connected with us on-line looking for guidance (of note, this student heard us speak 10 months ago, so it is clear that our message resonated with him). We were able to convince this student to connect with police via 9-1-1, and upon police arrival at his friend’s home, they confirmed that this young girl had indeed taken a large quantity of pills in a clear suicide attempt and was taken to hospital for treatment. The student who connected with us about this event saved a life, he was a digital first responder, and we have recommended him for a civilian commendation for his actions. This student connected with us because we made a promise to him (and all students that we present to), that if students reach out to us for help we will be there for them, and if we cannot help, we will connect them with someone who can and will help. That is our promise, that is our word and that is the foundation that our program was built upon.
Although there are a number of Internet and Social Media Safety programs on the market, there are few that offer “post” presentation follow-up and resources to students, parents and teachers who are looking for help in all its forms. Reality based Internet and Social Media safety training can change behavior and get students to think critically about consequences to less than desirable on-line behavior. Having said this however, even good digital citizens can still find themselves in a bad place needing help. We in the Internet and Social Media safety education movement can be that resource. Become more that just an educator, become a “digital white hatter”, in doing so you could be saving a life.