Pitching Internet Safety to the PTA

As many of you know, I’ve had a major shift this past year.

I’ve gone from working in the fast lane in the Movement to End Sexual Exploitation, in the thick of things on Capitol Hill and at the United Nations … back to stay-at-home mama and part-timer.

And now all my kiddos are gone to school.

And here I am.

But you know me. I’m a mover and a shaker. And I’m hooked on the Movement. Somehow it always comes and finds me.

So where did I find myself Monday evening? In a county-wide PTA meeting on Internet Safety of course! I had to go find my people. And I did. It. Was. A-W-E-S-O-M-E! More on that later.

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But right now I’m thinking about you: all the parents. You’re starting your school year too. You’re getting in your groove, putting school events on the big family calendar, maybe joining your PTA and … What about Internet Safety at your school?

Do you already have programs? Are the parents and teachers and kids in your area educated about issues like cyberbullying, internet predators, sexting, and pornography?

Because if they are not … guess where the instruction is going to happen? On the BUS! And on the PLAYGROUND!

My fourth-grader mentioned nonchalantly that his friend came across pornography and told him about it on the bus last week. WHAT?

“Yeah, he said he was playing this live role-play game where you can do everything you can do in real life, and he came up on these people who were doing stuff that was ‘totally messed up’ and it made him feel really sick inside. I told him to tell his mom about it.”

What strikes me is not the fact that the other kid came across inappropriate content, but that his first instinct was to go tell a friend about it. And then what …? He didn’t know.

Do you know what this means? If these things are happening, and we haven’t taught our kids what to do, then we are not in the loop.

GET IN THE LOOP!

Also … Do you remember the lewd Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover that came out in 2015? The one where the model hung her thumbs in the bikini bottom, pulling it down so low that it showed most of her pubic area–on the COVER? Yeah. I learned about that one from my kid, too.

My third-grader heard older kids on the playground planning to get a copy of the magazine. Because they could. All they had to do was go buy it from a grocery store or gas station. Anywhere. In public. At their eye level.

Still not convinced? Check out this firsthand account I came across not long ago:

“On my way home from school one day, two of my friends sat by me on the bus. One boy had his phone, and he got on the Internet to find pictures of girls who were not dressed. I told him I would not look at the pictures. He tried to sneak the phone in front of my face. I said, ‘No!’ and closed my eyes. The rest of the way home I looked out the window. I know I did the right thing that day.” ~Cade M., age 8, Arizona

These are real issues people. It’s not a matter of IF our kids are going to be exposed to these things. It’s a matter of WHEN.

Even kindergartners ride the bus.

GET IN THE LOOP!

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Credit: CommonSenseMedia.org

Over the years, several parents have asked me for tips and resources to help get the conversation started at their school. Below are just a few basic ideas to get your wheels turning.

Here are the main events I know about. Any of these would be a great springboard for your PTA:

WHITE RIBBON WEEK is the last week in October. Technically the full name is White Ribbon Against Pornography (WRAP) Week. There are tons of sites and cool ideas surrounding this event, but whiteribbonweek.org is the best site I’ve ever seen for schools and younger children. Materials used with the kids do not mention the word “pornography,” which might be easier for many parents and administrators to swallow, especially at the elementary level. The curriculum is super creative and doesn’t require a huge budget, so that’s really cool too. http://www.whiteribbonweek.org

MEDIA LITERACY WEEK is the first week in November. I’m still learning about this event. It looks like it started in 2015 and focuses on helping kids filter through all the ‘stuff’ they are continually bombarded with (aren’t we all?) like TV, ads, internet, phones, movies, social media, etc. https://medialiteracyweek.us

SAFER INTERNET DAY (SID) is celebrated in February. So if it’s the beginning of the school year and you’re pitching this idea for the first time, this event might be the one to go with! That way you’ll have more time to plan. SID is an international event that is concentrated mostly in Europe. There are individual websites for each country too, so when you visit the main site, be sure to click on “SID in Your Country” and check out what’s going on in your neck of the woods. https://www.saferinternetday.org

DIGITAL CITIZENSHIP WEEK is another one I just heard of. It’s sponsored by a company called Common Sense Media that supplies “Digital Citizenship Curriculum” to schools around the US, including ours. I don’t think the event has really caught on yet. I like the approach though. Materials include categories like Cyberbullying & Digital Drama, Privacy & Security, Digital Footprint & Reputation, Information Literacy, and some others I hadn’t thought of. The site has classroom posters, videos, games and other ready-made resources. There is no set date for this event, so you can celebrate whenever it’s convenient. https://www.commonsensemedia.org/educators/digitalcitizenshipweek

*Visit my Pinterest board: “For Schools: Internet Safety, Media Literacy, Digital Citizenship” (I will add to this as I find more resources.)

*For more general resources, check out my Pinterest board in collaboration with the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE): “Talking to kids about porn, sex and other hard talks.” or visit the NCOSE Resource Page for Parents here.

Above all, remember … YOU are the most powerful force in your children’s lives. Even if you can’t get a big, huge, amazing school-wide event going … talking to your child is invaluable.

If every parent talked to every child about Internet Safety, it would be just as good–or even better than–a school-wide event!

Other helpful links:

Fight the New Drug (for teens and above)
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