Last week, dozens of sixth-graders at Lewis and Clark Middle School laughed, gasped and listened intently as School Resource Officer Dave Gomez gave a presentation about the dangers of social media.
He asked the group of primarily 11-year-olds how many had cellphones. Most raised their hands. A handful said they have Facebook, and most of the students indicated that they have a social media account of some kind.
Gomez’ advice? Don’t use social media until you’re 16. But if you do, follow some guidelines — such as having no more than 200 Facebook friends — to protect yourself from cyber bullying and predators.
“Internet bullying is probably one of the biggest issues we have — above drugs, above everything,” Gomez said. Cyber bullying occurs when one person continually harasses another person online.
The second biggest problem — one that most people probably aren’t fully aware of, he said — is students sending naked photos of themselves to other students.
Gomez hopes to help students protect themselves. One of his methods is running four fake Facebook accounts. One account, for example, appears to belong to a 13-year-old girl. Thousands of students across the district have “friended” him on these accounts — breaking Gomez’ other guideline of never adding a Facebook friend you don’t personally know.
“I tell them everyday, I say, ‘Look, I am on your friends list. Delete me!’” Gomez said. “… They don’t know which one I am.”
He tells students their decisions matter now — not starting when they’re 18 and officially adults, but right now as middle-schoolers.
Parents also have a huge responsibility, Gomez said, to protect students online.
“If you’re going to let them on where there’s predators and everything, (parents’) delete and block finger better be pretty good,” he said.
Even when students do make bad decisions, Gomez assures them he’s on their side.
“What I tell them — every person that comes in here, whether they’re in trouble or they’re not — is, ‘Look, I’m on your team ... I’m going to be straight up with you. I’m not going to berate you, judge you or anything, I’m on your team. And even if you’re in trouble, I’m the best person to be here for you,’” Gomez said.