Gordon F. Kells High School welcomed Val Caldwell on Wednesday, Oct. 19, who spoke to middle years students attending from the elementary and high schools in the morning and high school kids in the afternoon. That evening Caldwell also hosted a Tech Talk for parents focused on safely integrating technology into their child’s life.
For the students one of the first questions Caldwell asked was “Who plays online games?” A number of hands were raised. “Who plays online games and talks to people they don’t know?” Many hands remained raised.
Caldwell said that in this day and age, that is part of the technology that we are involved with, but that she encourages youth to be smart about the decisions they make.
When addressing technology, Caldwell explained, “Kids today are not any different than when I was a kid. We used to pass notes. Today passing a note is sending a text. It’s just a different medium, the behaviour hasn’t changed.”
She then drew attention to how people interact with each other in face-to-face versus through a text message or over the internet. People utilize five non-verbal ways to communicate when speaking: body language, eye contact, hand gestures, facial expressions, and tone of voice. Words she said only make up seven percent of what the person is actually saying; while, 93 percent of what someone says in a face-to-face interaction relies on these non-verbal cues.
In a text message this can be difficult to get across. Although there are emojis youth use within their messages, misinterpretation of what someone is saying often occurs. Many students, when asked if they had misread a message ever, put up their hands saying that it had caused problems with someone when there shouldn’t have been one.
The Tech Talk then looked at social media and youth using these apps.
“Who here uses hashtags?” Caldwell asked. A few youth put up their hands.
“What does a hashtag do? Does anyone know?” she asked and when no hands when up she explained, “It’s alright that you don’t know. A hashtag lumps information together. One of the most popular hashtags out there is #friendsforlife.”
Caldwell pulled up a search for this hashtag and found over two million pictures she could look at and go through. Everyone that had used this hashtag with public settings had their picture come up. Caldwell then clicked on a random photo and showed the students how she could now see that individual, someone she doesn’t know, their entire profile.
Her suggestion to the youth were to ensure their profiles were private to keep them as safe as possible.
“The issue with social media, is that people don’t believe that if someone can see it they can take it. Our profile pictures are always open to the public, you can’t make that picture private, so I would suggest not putting up a profile picture that has your face in it, or for parent’s to put up a profile picture of their child. I also suggest you make sure there’s no identifiable information in it.”
When it came to discussing traits they look for in friends, youth all said they look for someone that was trustworthy, honest, and someone with similar interests and values. How they have close friends and acquaintances; but they also looked at what a “friend” online means and if they have people on social media sites that they don’t actually know.
“A picture does not make a profile real,” Caldwell stated. “And that’s the danger of talking to someone we don’t actually know online.”
She then explained a situation following one of these tech talks where a 15-year-old student spoke with Caldwell. She had been messaging a 17-year-old boy from another province for months and he said he was going to drive to meet her at a hotel that weekend. Instead of her going to meet him the police did and it was discovered he was a man in his 30s.
Caldwell stressed the importance of being skeptical of people they don’t know on social media sites before speaking about what a digital footprint is.
“I want you to go home and search yourselves on the internet, write in your name and where you’re from, and see what comes up,” she said. “If it’s on the internet it’s not private. That photo you put up, even if you take it down, could have been saved by someone else. The photos you put up on Instagram and Facebook and other apps don’t belong to you anymore, they belong to that company that runs that website. So, be aware what kind of impression you’re leaving online.”
Caldwell also spoke about sexting and how you might not be able to control what someone sends you, you can control what you do with that picture you’re sent. Reminding them that under the Criminal Code of Canada that possession, distribution, and creation charges can be laid on people as young as 12-years-old. She reiterated though that once you send an image, even on Snapchat, the image can be saved through a screenshot. And the person you shared it with may share it with others.
For G.F. Kells principal Maurice Saltel the Tech Talk was important because he sees youth and even adults addicted to their phones. In turn, in the school, this addiction causes sleeping issues at home and becomes a problem in the classroom. Additionally, the other topics addressed in the Tech Talk are usually thought of as a city problem, as something that doesn’t happen here, but the fact is it can happen anywhere because social media is everywhere. He hopes students will take the information seriously and protect themselves online, thinking about what they post before just doing it.