October is a time when we look at our school’s safety programs and ensure that we are providing an environment that is not only educationally enriching, but also one that is free from danger. On October 20, we will practice earthquake preparedness as we join many other schools across the state for The Great California Shakeout. I am meeting with a consultant next week who will analyze our school’s safety plans with regard to potential violent intruders and offer recommendations for improvement. The Diocese provides us with material to speak with students about Safe Environment policies and procedures (No-Go-Tell), which we will also disseminate to parents. We are arranging for a speaker to educate our students about dangerous drugs, specifically fentanyl. We are also reminding students about Internet safety.

Last week, a representative from the Poway Sheriff’s Department spoke with our grade 5-8 students about online safety and potential threats. The following statistics are taken from the article Kids Online Safety – Internet Safety for Kids published April 28, 2022. It states:

  • 70% of kids encounter sexual or violent content online while doing homework research
  • 17% of tweens (age 8-12) received an online message with photos or words that made them feel uncomfortable; only 7% of parents were aware of this
  • 65% of 8-14 year-olds have been involved in a cyberbullying incident
  • 36% of girls and 31% of boys have been bullied online
  • 16% of high school students have considered suicide because of cyberbullying
  • 75% of children would share personal information online in exchange for goods and services

Unfortunately, most of this information falls on deaf ears. Teachers and parents regularly speak with students about Internet safety, but there are bigger and more enticing forces on the worldwide web with which we just cannot compete. I would expect most of our students are a bit naïve and very inexperienced, which in many ways is a good thing. They come from loving homes with families who care for them. They attend school where the most egregious discipline issues are pretty tame. They cannot comprehend what some people are capable of, and they are very trusting, because they do not know any differently. So, when they go online and “meet up” with someone unknown, they cannot even imagine the dangers that might be lurking. Our students/children think we are paranoid, that we are crazy, and that we just don’t trust them when we try to speak with them about this very serious topic. 

But this is not a situation that we can take lightly. We cannot worry if our children “don’t like us” when we limit Internet exposure or insist on knowing passwords. We have to monitor their practices because they are just not mature enough to do it on their own – yet. They might not like us now, but the alternative is not an option. Trust but verify. Keep them safe.

Technology is a wonderful tool, and our students must demonstrate technology literacy to function in an online world. As a school, we would be remiss if we did not utilize the benefits of technology in education. However, we have to do so with great caution and supervision. Since the pandemic and the time of forced online learning, we have tried to limit the amount of time students are required to be on a device at school. I believe the dangers lie primarily with social media sites such as TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat, for example, as well as gaming where students “meet” strangers and are willing to share personal information to their detriment. Excessive cell phone use should be minimized to every extent possible. And as I mentioned at the K-2 Back-to-School Night – Wait Until 8th! (https://www.waituntil8th.org), if all parents in every grade agreed to wait to purchase smart phones for their children until they were in eighth grade, we could potentially curb some of the social emotional trauma that our students are experiencing.

This is not a “one and done” conversation. It must be reiterated every day, and we must model for our children our own Internet safety practices as well. Working together, we can help keep everyone safe.

In Mission,

Kathleen Mock