Special Report: Keeping your kids safe on social media

NORTH COLONIE, N.Y. (NEWS10) – Kids are exposed to social media earlier than many parents thing. Some are only in 3rd and 4th grade when they get their first taste, and many don’t know how to protect themselves from the dangers that exist.

A local school district is stepping up to teach kids and parents the dos and don’ts of social media.

Sixth graders at Southgate Elementary in North Colonie are just like all of their peers. Many are already active on social media, but may not necessarily be informed about its effects.

Stacey Angell, a counselor at Shaker Junior High School conducts social media workshops to help children navigate the very public, and often dangerous, online world.

“What I am going to do today is show you a few ways you could get yourself into pretty serious trouble,” Angell told the room of 6th graders at Southgate Elementary. “And also some ways you can be more responsible and appropriate.”

Angell says the most important thing to convey to the students is that they don’t know it all.

“I really want them to understand that there are dangers out there,” says Angell.

Angell, along with some help from Colonie Police, aims to educate.

“You have to be responsible,” Angell tells the students. “You have to change your privacy settings to make sure you’re private.”

Angell recommends kids begin with a private Instagram account, where controlling privacy is easiest, and thus, the safest.

Many kids know that leaving their account wide open invites trouble. You never know who can be following, or why they’re following you.

Still, many kids forgo privacy, opting instead for popularity.

“The number of followers that you have really implies how popular you are,” says Angell. “But what they don’t realize, is that they’re jeopardizing their safety in the meantime.”

More advanced social media apps like Snapchat have features like a map that gives anyone access to your child’s location and every move, if it’s activated. Angell says that feature should be turned off immediately.

As for those snapchat photos, Angell says they never disappear. Anyone can grab a screenshot and spread them around.

“As awful as it sounds, it’s not even about a picture going around the school. They can get in real serious trouble with the law,” says Angell. “It’s criminal.”

The same goes for cyberbullying. A threatening post or a harassing comment in response to a post is criminal under New York’s Dignity For All Students Act. It states students have the right to feel safe in school.

“So if you do something online, you are responsible for it right here in school and you can have consequences,” Angell tells the students.

Angell teaches students not to hurt anyone’s feelings online. But, she urges them to speak up immediately if they see something alarming, like someone threatening violence, as the gunman did before the most recent school massacre in Florida.

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