Opinion

Exercising caution

Saugus School Superintendent David DeRuosi delivered a wakeup call to all parents last week when he surveyed the sparse crowd attending a cyber security discussion sponsored by the Saugus Wellness Committee at the public library and said: “I would be lying if I said I wouldn’t like to see more people here.”

Safety and happiness are the paramount concerns for parents and anyone with responsibility for sending a child off to school.

Presented by Middlesex Partners for Youth Prevention working with local educators, the presentation on online dangers is part of a town parental information series that has already touched in depth on mental health.

Cyberbullying is already a well-documented threat to kids and a target of combined operations by law enforcement agencies and schools. But educating parents about how to keep their children safe online is a broad challenge.

The library presentation focused in part on the threat posed by online predators who use familiarity to lure children into illegal activity. Among the challenges facing parents seeking to keep their children safe is the sophistication and determination predators employ in order to convince children to do their bidding.

Since its inception, social media has unfolded as a new frontier of trust relationship-building between parents and children. Long-standing questions like, “Who are your friends?” and edicts like, “Keep your bedroom door open” are rooted in a more trusting and, maybe, more naive time.

Mobile technology puts the online world and social media into all users’ hands without regard to age or maturity. Safely navigating the online world and knowing when to be suspicious about social media contacts is a discussion parents increasingly find themselves having with kids. It is also a discussion that often places the adults at a disadvantage in terms of social media awareness.

The root of relationships between children and parents is trust and the communication that grows out of that trust. Social media and mobile devices are easy targets for critics who say technology has driven children away from the dinner table and the family conversation. But optimists suggest it has given families a virtual playing field for education and common experiences.

As Saugus’ superintendent, DeRuosi is building a strong track record of engaging parents and the town community as a whole in broad education discussions. With support from top town officials and elected leaders, he helped set Saugus on a progressive course to reorganize education in Saugus, culminating with planning for a combined middle and high school.

The series of conversations focused on dangers faced by young people, including dating violence and depression, is a valuable parental resource and maybe the most helpful tool the town can provide to local parents.

One of the biggest challenges parents face in keeping their children safe in the online world is the constantly evolving nature of social media technology. Decades went by with the same set of standard childhood threats — driving dangers, “the wrong crowd” and, in more recent years, substance abuse — challenging parents.

Online dangers aren’t as simple or as easy to detect. But the latest Saugus school initiative aided by professionals and with the public library’s cooperation lays the groundwork to expand conversations on student online safety and shine light on dark areas of the Internet.

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