Close Encounters with an Online Predator

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The above conversation took place a month ago and shook me to the core.

This blog post is part of the CM Rubin World Global Search for Education which poses a question each month to leading educators for reflection and sharing. This month’s question focused on Digital Citizenship. This is the story of my daughter, Grace.

Grace Ann, my 11-year-old daughter begged for an Instagram account. Her older brother had one, some of her friends had one, and I also had one. I explained to her that she was not old enough to have her own account, but could have a joint account with me. (It would be private, I would approve and post the content and who she followed and followers, and she could only access it from my device so as to be monitored.) As a parent, I felt this was a perfect opportunity to educate my child on how to use social media and be safe online.

One evening, Grace Ann was on Instagram looking and “liking” photos from the feed of JoJo Siwa, teen sensation from the hit show Dance Moms, when all of a sudden she received a private message (yes, you can still send and receive messages from strangers on a private account). The notification appeared on both my phone and the iPad she was using and I paused to see what she would do. Grace immediately brought it to my attention and I took it from there.

This predator, this sick individual, told my daughter that her profile picture was “hot” (see above, she is a child, she is not hot). My blood boiled. I realized this pervert targeted young girls who were “liking” pictures on JoJo’s feed.

I played along…

I posed as my daughter and replied to his comment, asking him if we knew each other and how old he was.

When he responded that he was 24 (and probably even older than that) I finished the conversation and told him I was, in fact, her mother and would be reporting him (plus, some other choice words).

Following this incident, Grace and I had many conversations as to what happened and how she could protect herself online. I told her how proud I was of her actions and how she came immediately to me when she got a message from someone she didn’t know.

Keeping our kids safe online is a priority for me as a parent-educator. When I speak to others about the positives, as well as negatives, online I urge parents to consider 3 things:

  1. Talk to your children about the internet and social media. How to stay safe online, protect their identity, and how to Use Social Media, not be Used by it.

  2. Be aware of all accounts, follow them and have access to them (this is not an invasion of privacy, but a necessity if anything were to ever happen).

  3. Take time to unplug. I purchased the device, I supply the internet, I will limit time spent and access as I feel fit. This is my right as a parent. Do not be afraid to set boundaries so that our children are safe and healthy.

While this is only one aspect of Digital CItizenship, I had never experienced anything hit so close to home and felt compelled to share with a larger audience. I love my children, just like I loved all of my students, and when something like this happens, my “Moma Bear” kicks in and I go into protection mode. The police were contacted, I had former students reach out who are now adults and are in law enforcement and government security. I also notified Instagram. Unfortunately, because he did not “cross the line” nothing could be done and his account was not suspended.

I share this, not to scare anyone, but rather as a reminder that we can never be too careful when it comes to children and the vastness of people connecting to them through the internet. It is never too early to start online safety conversations with kids. In the classroom, online safety or digital citizenship should not be discussed during a designated month, instead, students should hear it from all teachers and the components should be woven across the curriculum all year long.

Please, share your stories with me. Share resources you use in your classrooms or at home. Together, we can protect our children!

 

(Feel free to share this in your school and with parents, it is the reason that I blog)

Public Behavior Charts: Just Say No!

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Grace emerged from the bus last. I could tell from the look on her face that she was upset. She looked in my eyes and immediately broke down, tears streaming down her cheeks and unable to catch her breath through the whimpers. I hugged her with every ounce of love I had in my body. We walked home, she tucked under my arm while I stoically led the way. When we stepped inside the comfort of our home, Grace tearfully gasped, “I was on Red today.”

Public Behavior Charts Hurt Kids

In schools across America, students are adjusting from summer routines to classroom routines. Excitement to see friends and meet their new teachers is overshadowed by the behavior clip-down chart looming at the front of the room. They are constantly reminded that one mistake would catapult their designated clothespin from the top to the bottom, serving as a visible disappointment to every adult and peer in the room.

I am not naïve enough to think that my children never have bad days or make mistakes. In fact, I expect them to have hiccups as they learn to navigate through school. But a public behavior chart has punitive consequences that outlast the offense itself. Ridicule from peers and negative self-thoughts do not belong in our schools in any form.

There are many options educators can use as an alternative to the Public Behavior Chart:

  1. A simple note home or a weekly graph of the same behavior system can be shared privately with parents or slipped into a folder and transported home.
  2. A Google spreadsheet can also replace Public Behavior Charts. Sharing a Google spreadsheet with both the parents and the child keeps the information private, as well as acts as an ongoing update on behavior.
  3. Another alternative, and one of my new favorites, is the “behavior tracking” option found in the Bloomz app. This digital alternative allows teachers to share successes and concerns with parents in a private and secure way. Along with a number of other options, this school-to-home app keeps the lines of communication open without retributions attached to more public options. A private messaging option promotes dialogue between child, parents, and teachers.

Educators work to develop and support the whole child, which includes much more than just scholastics. Behavior, both positive and negative, should be shared with parents but not posted publicly. Using a digital, secure and, most importantly, a private alternative such as Bloomz is what is best for kids. Just Say Yes!

 

3 Needs I Have as a Parent-Educator and How Bloomz Can Help

File_000 (5).jpegThis year, around 55 million students are heading back to school and I am the mom of two of them.

Wearing multiple hats as both a mother and an educator can be a difficult job that many in this field experience. The beginning of the school year is a time when I delicately place the care of my children in the hands of a fellow teacher and trust that they will return happy, challenged, and successful. School to home communication is never more important than at the beginning of the school year.

As a parent, I have 3 main needs this communication must answer:

  1. Show me you care!
  2. How is my child doing?
  3.  How can I help?

Effective school to home communication includes utilizing multiple platforms and modes to communicate to the widest possible audience and using technology provides timely, fast, and easy communication options. Recently, I was introduced to Bloomz, a mobile and web app used for communication, and am quickly falling in love with its ease of use and options available to both educators and parents. Bloomz is also a perfect fit to meet the needs I have as a parent. It can easily help keep the lines of communication open between parents and teachers, addressing the needs that we all have.

Screenshot 2016-08-31 at 8.40.16 AMShow me you care!

As a parent, I witness the love of learning in my own children when they have a caring relationship with their teacher. I look to my child’s teacher to guide and support them, not only in the areas of math and reading but also interpersonal skills. Bloomz provides teachers the ability to send messages and share pictures in a safe and self-contained environment. A daily recap message or weekly update, photos from the classroom or of my child reading in the nook all help to promote a transparent classroom, letting parents know that relationships are being built in a caring environment.

Screenshot 2016-08-31 at 8.42.30 AMHow’s is my child doing?

Nothing is more rewarding than receiving recognition on the good your child exhibits. Whether displaying my child’s talent in writing or praising their kindness to a new student, educators can rarely over-communicate with a parent. And just as I want to hear the good, it is important to be informed if my child is struggling with a math concept or isn’t following directions in science class. As school to home communication expert, Steven Anderson told me, “It is better to be proactive rather than reactive.” Again I found this need to know as a parent met with the Bloomz app. First, I could download it on my phone, which alleviates the multiple clicks I must endure trying to locate information on my child on other platforms. It also provides large-group, small-group, and individual messaging so that success can be shared and concerns targeted. Translation into multiple languages is available with Bloomz, as well as a new behavior tracking, which means no more stickers slapped on my child’s shirt or public clip-down charts of shame. 

Screenshot 2016-08-31 at 8.51.48 AMHow can I help?

Finally, as a parent, I want to know what I can do at home to support my child’s learning. What specific needs are there for the classroom? Are there volunteer opportunities for reading days, field trips, etc.? As a parent, I love reading to Grace Ann’s class, volunteering to chaperone Aiden’s field trip, or donating a dessert for conference nights. With Bloomz, teachers can share calendars, send event invites, request, and assign volunteers, and even post reminders.

As the school year begins and my hat shifts between being a parent and being an educator, I am reminded of the importance of a transparent classroom and the communication between school and home that is necessary to support my children as they embark on a new journey. A letter home, a classroom website, or even an app like Bloomz helps qualm those burning needs that many parents have and establishes a positive line of communication.