By Brianne Ledda and Gabby Pardo
Newfield High School hosted a cyber security presentation on Monday, Feb. 4 for some 100 community members to inform them about dangers lurking on the Internet.
The event, coordinated by Selden and Dawnwood Middle Schools, featured a representative from the Suffolk County Police Department – Officer Thomas DiLena – who offered an almost hour-long lecture that touched on everything from oversharing on social media to child sexting.
“When I ask kids if they think they’re getting more sleep than they are spending time on their phone, the overwhelming majority will say ‘oh no, I’m on my phone more than I sleep,’” DiLena said. He called social media apps addicting.
The presentation comes at a time when, according to Pew Research Center, 95 percent of teens have access to a smartphone, and 45 percent say they’re on the internet almost constantly. A Jama Network study published in April also found that at least one in four teens receive sexts, and at least one in seven send them.
Aside from the presentation held Monday night, both Selden and Dawnwood hosted the program during the school day on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively.
“While we want to educate the public, it’s the students who are with us every day, and I need to make sure that they really understand the dangers that are there for them, waiting for them, when they are online,” Andrew Bennett, Selden Middle School’s principal, said.
During the presentation, DiLena showed local examples of internet safety gone wrong. He pointed to an incident in Kings Park, where an 11-year-old boy was threatened by an older man after beating him on the online video game Fortnite.
Oversharing personal information, DiLena said, is one of the biggest safety problems he’s seen on the internet. He advised attendees not to share their last names or their addresses on the internet.
Even pictures that seem innocent, he said, could be revealing more than intended. He shared a story about a girl who invited a friend over, but forgot to give her the address. The friend was able to find her house anyway using Snapmaps and Google.
Dawnwood Middle School’s principal, Daniel Katchihtes, said that students seemed nervous and apprehensive after seeing the presentation.
“I think they were embarrassed,” he said, explaining that he believed many students were practicing a lot of things the officer said not to do. He added that he thought it was good for them to see potential consequences.
Girl Scout troops went to the presentation on Monday night to both earn their “Netiquette” badges and to learn more about how they should conduct themselves on the Internet.
“[Kids are] so juvenile,” Jessica Priola, a parent and another Girl Scout troop leader who attended the event with her troop, said. “They don’t understand telling someone where you live is not a good thing.”
Priola’s troop has a no phone policy on trips, she said. She even takes her 12-year-old daughter’s phone at 8:30 every night, and glances through her messages to make sure she’s staying safe.
“Even me, as a teacher and a parent, I learn stuff,” Elizabeth Colombo, a teacher at Islip High School and a Girl Scout troop leader who also saw the presentation in her own district, said. “Like, do you know every picture has a geotag on it?”
Other community members who attended the event – such as Theodora Cohen, who teaches science at a Riverhead preschool – believe that technology is an addiction.
“I already see my one-year-old grandson trying to grab my phone,” Cohen, who was volunteering at the presentation, said. “The fact that the Suffolk County police is going around to the schools doing this is important for the parents to know that they should be attentive.”