Forum addresses dangers of social media use

By Lindsay Carey
With technology and social media usage at an all-time high among teens the Southington Drug Task Force offered information at the Southington High School on Wednesday night for parents who may have been unaware of all the ways their children are using the Internet.
The evening began with some informal information from pamphlets on drugs and alcohol issues with teens as well as new problems like sexting and cyberbullying.
Trish Kenefic, chairperson of the Southington Drug and Task force and grade 7 teacher at Depaolo Middle School, said the biggest goal of the Drug and Task force is prevention. Kenefic shared they hope educating parents on these issues can prevent students from getting into trouble.
“With technology, everything changes quickly,” said Kenefic. “Most people know how to use Facebook, but now there’s Instagram, too.”
Sandra Vonniessen-Applebee from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) echoed this concern during her presentation about cyberbullying later that evening.
“Apps are changing, the apps being used two years ago are not the same ones people are using today,” said Vonniessen-Applebee.
During the presentation, she discussed how some of the most popular apps are being used by teens and the perils of social media like cyberbullying and sexting.
The ADL defines cyberbullying for parents simply as the “intentional and repeated mistreatment of other through the use of technology.” Vonniessen-Applebee explained cyberbullying is intensified by sites that allow comments to be made anonymously as well as causing less empathy because it is done behind the computer screen instead of face to face.
Vonniessen-Applebee defined “sexting” as sending provocative or nude pictures of oneself to another person. She explained how sexting is becoming rampant among teens and can be extremely damaging to one’s reputation.
She used toothpaste to visually communicate the effects of improperly using social media to parents. Just like toothpaste, once it’s out of the tube or on the web you can’t get it back. Vonniessen-Applebee said this is the idea that many students are missing and urged parents to reiterate this to their children, because of how easily photos can be forwarded or turned into screenshot.
“Technology is beyond where kids are developmentally, so we need to guide them,” said Vonniessen-Applebee. She told parents students may not be aware, but colleges and future employers are viewing their social media and taking it into consideration.
Vonniessen-Applebee also informed parents of the cyberbullying law in Connecticut as well as the sexting laws with the assistance of Southington police officer Tom Gallo.
“Having it on your phone is a crime and forwarding it is a crime,” said Gallo of inappropriate and nude pictures of teens between the ages of 13 and 18. When parents expressed concerns about the protection of children under 13, Gallo assured them that other laws like child pornography kick in to protect those minors.
Vonniessen-Applebee and Officer Gallo both advised students who attended to let an adult know if they receive something inappropriate and stressed the importance of students not forwarding the material.
Parents also asked questions during the presentation about when it is the appropriate time to contact law enforcement about a cyberbullying or sexting incident, or how schools handle these incidents.
Vonniessen-Applebee explained even though sometimes schools do not want to take action, it is the law that they have to and encouraged parents to stay on top of the school should an incident occur with their child.
She also advised parents to have a conversation with their kids about what they are doing online and to be alert when something seems off with their child.
After the informative presentation, parents were directed to the auditorium to watch a video called “Piercing The Darkness,” to help parents better understand teens.

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