CENTENARY — The Gallia Prosecutor’s Office, Gallipolis City Schools, Gallia Citizens for Prevention and Recovery as well as nextTalk, an organization with a mission of focusing on internet safety education, partnered to discuss keeping families safe in an ever digitally connected world Tuesday night at Gallia Academy High School.
Gallia CPR’s Hidden in Plain Sight program held a demonstration and exhibit centered around a faux teenager’s bedroom. Event goers explored the bedroom in an attempt to identify drug paraphernalia, hiding places and signs of potential substance abuse.
“My wife and I were at a conference in the spring this year. We had the opportunity to hear Mandy Majors speak about this very important topic,” said Gallia Prosecutor Jason Holdren. “I have an 11-year-old, an eight-year-old and a five-year-old. I made the mistake of taking them into her session and we were there for 10 minutes and I quickly left. My wife stayed. I say that to say this. It will be very hard-hitting, very raw and real. You might want to not have your kids hear this.”
Holdren thanked Gallia Academy High School, his staff, and Gallia CPR for its efforts.
“If you have any sort of group, (Gallia CPR) is willing to set this up and educate your group about what’s going on (with youth and substance abuse),” said Holdren about the Hidden in Plain Sight program. “They can hook you up with resources.”
“He (Holdren) contacted our school system a couple months ago and ran this by Mr. (Craig) Wright, our superintendent,” said GAHS Principal Josh Donley. “Zero hesitation (to consider having the event). Welcome here to our school. It’s critical and we hope these conversations and what you hear and are educated with, we hope you share that with other parents. That’s how we combat this. Our kids are hearing things and seeing things and exposed to things that you and I, growing up, may have had no idea about. That’s why this is important.”
Mandy Majors, nextTalk founder, introduced herself as a woman with 15 years of experience working in a legal field reviewing contracts while also being a stay-at-home mother. Her daughter at the age of nine asked her about a sexualized subject Majors said she had not heard about herself until she was 19. She pondered how her child had run into such information and said from that night on, she and her family’s life had changed. Her organization, nextTalk, has since gone international with a radio program along with online outlets in its attempt to educate families surrounding internet safety.
Majors alluded to another moment when her daughter was traveling internet traffic associated with wedding dresses because she wanted to see “cute dresses” and came across pornographic content. Instead of shouting at her, Majors said she praised her daughter for bringing it to her attention. She allowed her to download another phone app, at her mother’s discretion. Majors lauded the importance of positive reinforcement with children in creating open dialogue instead of going “crazy mom mode.”
“There were people bashing teenagers online and saying what a stupid generation we’re raising,” said Majors. “They’re eating (washing detergent) pods, right? So that tells me we don’t understand (teenage) culture. Hear me out here. When our kids want to learn a new skill, they want to put on makeup or learn to skateboard, what do they do? They YouTube it. We YouTube it. We watch and emulate. They do too. Why should it surprise us as parents that they’re watching and emulating that behavior? Because we don’t understand their culture.”
Majors said that if youth caretakers wanted children to be safe online, caretakers needed to learn proper use of technology as well so that youth had a good example. That included regulating screen time as well as knowing the kinds of apps and the abilities of them.
Majors criticized what she called a lack of app moderation and age rating policies across digital technology. She said she had partnered with organizations seeking age appropriate advertising standards in apps as she had found apps targeted towards young users at times had adult advertising materials.
Majors cautioned families to monitor their children’s online communications because of potential predators pretending to be children who were looking to groom them into questionable activity. Predators could attempt to solicit information from a child in an attempt to blackmail them into sending nude pictures.
The nextTalk founder said she had 10 points she wanted families to know in order to prevent internet danger.
The first said that parents should avoid “crazy mode” where one shouts at a child and throws a phone or digital connection away. Majors said this could encourage a child to look at a friend’s device and prevent them from trusting their parents. Her second point encouraged families to make a “safe space” for their children. She invited the use of positive reinforcement and rewarding behaviors that promoted children communicating with their parents. Her third point encouraged families to set guidelines for digital technology use. The fourth encouraged families to set a moral compass for their children. The fifth encouraged families to inspire their children to stand up for their beliefs and teachings. Majors’ sixth point said that parents should explain to their children the kind of content they want their children to report online that they encounter. Her seventh point said that there should be no secrets in the family. She used the example that a coach might tell a student they had beer to drink but to not tell parents. Majors said this encouraged children to not tell their parents when potentially dangerous grooming behavior was happening. Her ninth point said that families should not let fear take over and her tenth point said that change started within the family. Families should create a culture of trust and constant communication about tough subjects involving sex, pornography and online predation, among others.
“These things could be happening on your own sofa,” said Majors. “We need to know what our kids are doing, but we need them to trust us so we can guide them through this new world. If they don’t tell us what they’re finding, bad things can happen. That’s a problem. They will be exposed to things we can’t control, but we can help them learn how to handle it.”
Dean Wright can be reached at 740-446-2342.