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Editorial: Schools, parents need to stress cyber safety lessons

Dec. 06, 2013 @ 09:19 AM

Young people said and did plenty of stupid things before the Internet.

There is nothing new about the hurtful gossip, angry threats or out­rageous pranks that have long been a part of growing up. But for previ­ous generations, much of that care­less behavior faded over time.

Not so for teens and young adults today.

The widespread use of social media is creating a whole new kind of “permanent record” for all those who take part, and most young people do. A recent Pew Foundation survey showed that 78 percent of teens have a cellphone, 93 percent have access to a computer at home, 95 percent use the Internet and 81 percent have a social media site.

Without question these new media are changing the way young people communicate, but experts warn the photos, videos and opinions posted can be preserved indefinitely in the digital world. Poor judgment could haunt users for years to come.

Already many employers, col­leges and graduate programs check job seekers or applicants online before making hiring decisions. This week, Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey commented that he feared that over time all the information shared could have even greater impact.

“I worry a bit about ... the young men and women who are now in their teens, early teens, and who probably underestimate the impact of their persona in social media and what impact that could have later in life on things like security clear­ances and promotions,” Dempsey said during the conference.

About 150 students from Hunting­ton East Middle School and Duval Middle School in Lincoln County got some of the same advice Tuesday during a cyber safety summit, spon­sored by Marshall University, the FBI and the Appalachian Institute of Digital Evidence.

The dangers of making online contact with predators is still a great concern, but speakers also covered the problems that can result from posting explicit photos or online bu l ly i ng.

“It’s not just about protecting themselves now,” said John Sam­mons, an assistant professor of Inte­grated Science and Technology. “It’s about protecting their futures.” That is an important message that parents need to continue to stress, and programs such as the Marshall summit need to be a regular part of the school curriculum.

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