2018-02-14 / Editorial

Cyber safety a lesson for the times

Lapeer County students have been getting an education in recent months about cyber safety and using hand-held technology appropriately. We commend school and the local enforcement community for taking a proactive approach to a serious and potentially criminal activity that some children engage in without regard to the consequences.

Earlier this month a counselor at Almont High School invited Judge Byron Konschuh to speak to the school’s students about the dangers of sexting and other inappropriate behavior generally shared via cellphones.

Konschuh showed up with Lapeer County Prosecutor Michael Sharkey, Lapeer County Sheriff Scott McKenna, Almont Police chief Andrew Martin, School Liaison Officer Amanda Manning, Lapeer County Juvenile Probation Officer Stephen Smith and Emily Sznitka, an intake coordinator and forensic interviewer at the Child Advocacy Center of Lapeer County.

McKenna told students a recent survey in Lapeer found 62 percent of junior and 60 percent of sixth and seventh-grade students think sexting is a serious issue.

Konschuh pointed out that possession of a nude photo of a school-age student (minors) is possession of child pornography. Possession of child pornography is a felony, punishable by up to four years in prison and a $10,000. Hitting the send button of a phone or computer to share a nude photo with a friend, said Sharkey, can lead to a seven-year prison sentence and a $50,000 fine.

On Tuesday, McKenna visited with sixth to eighthgrade students at Chatfield School in Lapeer to talk about cyber safety and the use of cellphones. Earlier this winter McKenna and Chief Dave Frisch of the Lapeer Police Dept. as well as Lapeer Community Schools Superintendent Matt Wandrie conducted community forums at Zemmer Middle School and Lapeer High School. With them were school liaison officers assigned to the schools.

Together they reinforced the point that while cellphones are a great tool to communicate, they can also be used to bully students as well as inflict other harm to people.

What concerns school and law enforcement officials, and should also concern parents and grandparents of children reading this today, is that often the message of cyber safety is met with a blank face on the part of the student.

To most children today texting and the use of Snapchat to share photos is second nature. From the moment they awake to when they go to bed studies show it’s not uncommon for a teenager to have texted more than 50 messages and likely to have shared a number of photos as well.

In a recent Sunday edition of The County Press, in our Insight section we addressed “Tech Anxiety” — an explanation of the problems excessive use of cellphones is causing to youth and society.

Since publication of those articles on Feb. 4, we have received a steady stream of Letters to the Editor as well as Sound Off responses, all by people who are sharing the issues they’re having with their children as it relates to the use of cellphones. They share a common frustration that they can’t get their kids to put the cellphones away, even just long enough to eat a meal together as a family.

Simply put, many students and adults are addicted to their phones. Nearly 60 percent of parents think their teens are addicted to smartphones, according to a recent survey by Common Sense, a parent advocacy group.

Not only are smartphones an annoyance to many parents who are trying to have a conversation with their children, but it has also been a major distraction in our local schools.

Students at Ruth Fox Elementary School and North Branch Junior High are able to use cellphones or other handheld devices only during lunch — a policy that has led to marked improvement of attentiveness and significant reduction in disciplinary cases.

It’s important parents take the responsibility to monitor who their children are communicating with on their smartphones and computers. Talking to our kids is good parenting. A practice which we are heartened to observe, has not gone out of style in Lapeer County.

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