“Those 11 words changed my life!” said Jake G., a high school senior and a member of the National Honor Society, about the results what was supposed to be a joke posted on Facebook.
Some 1,600 teens recently attended BGCA's Keystone Conference -- an event created by teens for teens -- in Fort Worth, Texas.
Jake was part of the Internet safety supersession that was sponsored by Sprint at the recent BGCA National Keystone Conference, a gathering of 1,600 teens and their advisors from Boys & Girls Clubs all over the U.S. and on military installations overseas. He shared the story of this past year in his life, which was dramatically changed by a simple posting he put up on Facebook.
Jake was a high school junior when a mix-up over “Junior Take Over Day” at his high school had him vent his frustration at the turn of events on Facebook with the words “So, do we have permission to brutally murder [the principal's name] now?” Those 11 words meant felony charges that were later dropped, misdemeanor charges that resulted in probation and community service, school-mandated counseling, out-of-school suspension (and almost expulsion) and a host of other consequences that aren’t part of a normal high school senior year.
Jake has taken full responsibility for his post online and deeply regrets what he said. But as so much in this Internet age, once it’s out there, it’s out there and can’t be taken back. And with more and colleges and employers checking online profiles, teens need guidance in what is appropriate online and what might not be a good idea.
Boys & Girls Clubs take Internet safety very seriously. Clubs know the importance of adult monitors actively assisting members is using the Internet at the Club and that filters, while not sufficient in themselves to assure a safer Internet experience, are an important tool in a safer Internet experience. But Clubs also know that the only thing the members take with them when they leave the Club is the Internet safety education that they learn in the tech center and other Club programs.
To help our Clubs provide better Internet safety education, BGCA has partnered with Sprint and works with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children to provide the NetSmartz Workshop of Internet safety programs for our Clubs. And, in June, Clubs are looking forward to celebrating Internet Safety Month with their members, to help reinforce the important safety lessons given throughout the year.
Every adult in the community can help young people use the Internet more safely. If you’re a parent, talk with your children and teens about their online life. Model good Internet safety behaviors in your family and regularly check online profiles and postings for appropriateness. All caring adults can make sure your children your life feel comfortable talking with you if they have a problem online. By working together, a community can help ensure our young people have a more positive online experience.
Dan Rauzi is BGCA's senior director of Technology Programs.
By helping our members, especially our teens, learn how to use the Internet more safely, Boys & Girls Clubs are also helping to prepare them to be digital citizens who can use the Internet to enhance their lives and as a tool for being better informed citizens of our nation and the world. A single post can change a life and Boys & Girls Clubs are there to help make sure that post changes lives for the better.
Jake G. is committed to telling his story to teens so they can avoid the mistake he made. Will you make the same commitment to the young people in your life?