GROTON -- Students at Groton-Dunstable Regional Middle School received an hour-long primer Monday morning on the dangers of the Internet. Topics ranged from cyber bullying to sexting to identity fraud.
Presented by David Solet, chief of Middlesex County District Attorney office's cyber unit, in conjunction with advocacy organization Middlesex Partners for Youth, the assembly offered an overview of how to handle the dangers that the Internet can pose to young people.
"If we don't talk about how to recognize when something's not safe, kids can be put in a dangerous position and not know what to do," Solet said.
The rapidly changing nature of the Internet makes it difficult for parents to protect their children from potential threats, Solet said.
"A lot of times, you're better at using these things than your parents are," Solet said to laughs from the students.
Solet said that it is easy for predators to pretend to be people they are not to get close to victims. A crime called child enticement, he said, by which predators try to coax children into inappropriate behaviors, was recently enshrined in state law.
"For better or worse, the Internet has opened all communities to a whole world of strangers. The only way we can catch them is to be vigilant and be looking," Solet said.
He discussed the trouble that can come from sending inappropriate pictures, claiming that 88 percent of such photos find their way into the wrong hands.
Solet identified ways students can help protect themselves. He recommended being careful about the information put online, not sharing location information and not sharing passwords.
"You're not only allowing people to read your private things, but to write things in your name and hurt your reputation," he said about the importance of keeping passwords a secret.
He encouraged students to tell a trusted adult, such as a parent or a teacher, if they see any cases of cyber bullying or suspicious behavior on the Internet.
"When this stuff happens, it's important that you talk to your teachers, talk to your parents, or the school resource staff, because there are people who can help you but they can only help you if you talk to them," he said.
Solet emphasized the power that social networking sites have over reputations. He said four out of five college admissions officers take a student's social networking presence into account when making admissions decisions. He cited a survey indicating that 37 percent of hiring managers do the same when considering job applicants.
Ariana Coniglio, of Middlesex Partners for Youth, said the assembly is being presented at every public middle school in Middlesex County as a preventative measure.
"The Internet is so pervasive that we have to teach kids how to use it properly," Coniglio said.
Principal Steven Silverman called the talk an important step in educating students about threats that aren't often discussed.
"We want to support parents in our joint effort to promote safety among all our students," Silverman said. "We're letting them know what the dangers are and how to be safe."
Middlesex District Attorney Marion Ryan, who did not attend the assembly, said education efforts such as this are necessary to combat the pitfalls of new technologies.
"As parents, we must remain alert and engaged with our children on their use of the Internet, social media, texting and photo-sharing technology," Ryan said.
"The unfortunate reality is that predators are online," she said, "and we must do all we can to teach our children how to avoid those dangerous situations."