GALLIPOLIS — Gallia Prosecutor Jason Holdren invited area adults who interact with children frequently to join his office on the second floor meeting room of the Gallia Courthouse for a lunch discussion Thursday surrounding the issues and controversies of internet safety and its effects on youth.
Mandy Majors, founder of the nextTalk nonprofit organization and author of “Talk: A Practical Approach to Cyberparenting and Open Communication,” was invited to hold a video conference with visitors as she is anticipated to visit Gallia Academy High School to discuss the importance of youth internet safety and of communicating in families. The program Protecting Children in a Digital World will be held Tuesday, Oct. 8, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Gallia Academy High School and will include light refreshments, a display presented by Hidden in Plain Sight, an anti-drug program partnering with Gallia Citizens for Prevention and Recovery, and special guest speaker, Majors. Hidden in Plain Sight focuses on helping parents identify drug trends and hiding techniques adults may be unaware youth are utilizing.
“My wife and I attended a conference this spring and we heard a lady by the name of Mandy Majors talk about raising kids in this digital world we live in,” said Holdren. “Our kids are growing in a world right now where they have no idea what it’s like to grow up without a smartphone in their pocket. With that, comes a lot of danger…It’s a great technology and a great thing, if it’s used in the right way…But we’re seeing things like pornography, cyber strangers, sex trafficking, bullying. It used to be back when I was in school, between maybe fourth period and lunch, there might be the guy you tried to get away from and you’d see him in a certain hallway. Now, bullying is 24 hours a day and on our phones. That is leading kids to have issues with depression, suicide, addiction and looking for ways to cope with the life they’re living. As parents, if we’re honest, we don’t know the latest and greatest apps that our kids are seeing or using and that sometimes leads us to maybe not know exactly how to communicate with them about certain issues.”
After listening to Majors speak, Holdren said he and his wife wished to invite her to Gallia to speak. Holdren invited visitors to become stakeholders and spread the word of the upcoming event.
“We hope that you will see there is a need and that you will partner with us to do what we can,” said Holdren. “We want to equip our parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches, pastors, whatever you may be, to have the tools to have those tough conversations.”
The prosecutor said the program was one centered on prevention of harm and that it was being funded through a law enforcement trust fund made of funds compromised from the forfeitures of drug dealers.
Majors addressed visitors through a video conference and told them a key moment in her becoming concerned about youth internet safety was when her daughter discovered questionable adult material in social media while searching for photos of dresses. She praised her daughter for bringing it to her attention and instead of deciding to completely forbid use of social media, Majors encouraged education and appropriate use of it with parental oversight.
“I had an opportunity to reward her and build her up and empower her for being honest with me,” said Majors. “I’m not going to go crazy mom mode…My child did nothing wrong. She just clicked on an innocent hashtag (that revealed unexpected content)…Avoid crazy parent mode. We have to remain calm.”
Holdren invited Gallipolis City Schools Superintendent Craig Wright to speak to visitors. The superintendent told the assembled that they could expect for their children, students or sports players to come in contact with controversial content on the internet. It could happen to anyone, regardless of demographic and age.
“Just like we have educational standards,” said Wright,”we have social and emotional standards we have to meet…We can’t reach our students academically if they don’t feel safe. This isn’t an educational problem. This is a societal problem.”
Wright said, as an example, that an ongoing problem with schools across the country was that youth traded naked photos via their mobile devices to feel accepted or spoke with strangers posing to be children online or were being attacked or attacking other students on social media.
“We give trauma training to our staff so they can deal with the problems of their students that they’re trying to help move forward,” said Wright. “We’re trying to focus on education…but if we can’t reach them and keep them stable and safe, socially and emotionally, we’ll never reach them academically. We see it first hand.”
Dean Wright can be reached at 740-446-2342.