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Tuesday, Oct 21, 2014

Scullin: Pinellas schools focus on cyberbullying this week

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Is your teenage or “tween” son or daughter on Facebook? Twitter? Instagram?

This is an issue with which my wife and I have wrestled, mostly because of all the creeps who lurk online, hoping to snare unsuspecting kids into inappropriate and dangerous situations. For the most part, the predators are deranged adults; thankfully, years of education from law enforcement and advocacy groups have helped attune parents and kids to the dangers.

That awareness has helped us come up with strategies to keep our daughter safe. We only rarely let her take the laptop into her bedroom, for example, and even then it’s with the understanding that we’ll be popping in from time to time. She’s not on Facebook or Twitter, though she recently started using Instagram to share photos with friends, and she doesn’t email extensively. She turns over her cell phone and iPod Touch at night and understands that her text messages can be monitored. Even still, with the number of devices that can get a kid online and the proliferation of social networking sites, you can’t sleep on anything.

Now, there’s a new type of creep preying on our kids: other kids who bully them online. These “cyberbullies” spread rumors, tease and threaten, post unflattering photos – and far worse. Cyberbullying can seemingly dog kids anywhere they go online, because they and their friends are so plugged in and because of the expansive reach of the Internet. Staying offline isn’t a cure-all because the vitriol that starts online often carries over to school and elsewhere. The consequences can be devastating. Only this month, a 12-year-old girl in Polk County jumped to her death after being relentlessly tormented online.

Cyberbullying is real and dangerous — the latest threat to children’s safety that needs to be stared down.

Parents and students can learn more about the dangers of cyberbullying and constructive ways of responding during Cyberbullying Awareness Week, which starts today. The inaugural effort is a collaboration between Gulf Coast Giving, a nonprofit organization that funds technology in schools and targets cyberbullying, and Pinellas County Schools. Throughout the week, Gulf Coast Giving will be visiting various schools throughout the county, sharing the stories of children who have been victimized and giving students, parents and school workers tools for recognizing cyberbullying and intervening. Some schools will host spirit days, coloring and video contests and other activities to spread the message. On Friday, there’s a celebration at Madeira Beach Fundamental School from 6 to 9 p.m., with food, games, music and other fun stuff, along with more information about cyberbullying and testimonials from parents whose children were targeted.

“Our main goal is to raise awareness, educate people,” said Nick Foley, the founder and CEO of Gulf Coast Giving.

“It goes on, really, without parents knowing. A lot of kids don’t like to share what’s happening to them at school. We’re trying to bridge that gap between parents and kids … so that if something like this is happening, it can be handled in a timely manner.”

Gulf Coast Giving hopes to expand its cyberbullying awareness effort into Hillsborough and Sarasota counties next year and, eventually, be working all across Florida, Foley said.

For information, go to www.gulfcoastgiving.org/awareness.

 

Help us tell important stories

This week, the Tribune welcomes back Judy Hill, who worked in our newsroom for many years, to write a weekly column for the St. Petersburg Tribune. Judy has lived in St. Pete most of her life and knows Pinellas County. Her charge will be writing about the people, institutions, traditions and moments that make our communities special. If you don’t know Judy already, I think you’ll enjoy getting to know her through her column every Sunday. Please help us tell as many of those stories as possible. You can email Judy at judyhillstpete@outlook.com, or feel free to send me story ideas.

 

Talk to the editor

I’m headed back to the beach this week. I’ll be at Steam & Chill, 7410 Gulf Blvd. in St. Pete Beach, from 9 to 10 a.m. Tuesday. Please stop by, say hello, and tell me what’s on your mind.

jscullin@tampatrib.com

(727) 828-6150

Twitter: jscullinTBO

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