DOUBLE SPRINGS - Dangerous issues, including predators using social media and health risks caused by vaping, are being brought to light in a big way Tuesday, Oct. 15, in a first-of-its-kind countywide meeting, and parents are being urged to attend to hear these messages.
The meeting is set for 6 p.m. at the Double Springs Middle School gymnasium, where school officials will be joined by law enforcement, including Seth Sullivan, instructor with the National Association of School Resource Officers.
Sullivan has a program that parents need to hear regarding the dangers posed by social media use and its effects on not just middle and high school age students, but elementary students, as well.
In fact, parents of children from all levels of education need to be in attendance to hear the special message and shocking stories provided by Sullivan, noted school officials.
Kerri Roberts, Winston County 4-H coordinator, will be the second guest speaker, addressing the topic of vaping and the alarming death rate that is affecting the youth of the nation.
The concept of bringing countywide and even national resources together for such a program began when Winston County High School Principal Jeff Cole was talking with Danny Springer, administrative assistant for Winston County Schools, about the urgent need to get the message out to parents about these harmful behaviors.
Cole talked not only with Springer about these issues and the need to bring awareness, but also Double Springs Police Chief Kim Miller and School Resource Officer Kent Donaldson of the police department.
Donaldson made contact with Sullivan, who will be addressing the dangers of social media apps and how children can easily fall into traps.
“What we’re trying to do between the Winston County Board of Education and Double Springs Police Department, is give parents the opportunity to listen to, honestly, some very scary things that are out there,” Cole pointed out.
“We see some of those in the school business that we hear about when we go to conferences. We just wanted to bring this to parents for them to see,” Cole added.
There is no age limit for students attending, whether elementary, middle or high school. Parents of all of these ages need to be present to hear the special messages and programs about the reality of these dangers, school officials said.
The program will not just be open to parents but the general public as well, Cole said.
“I said parents, but grandparents, anyone who is a guardian,” he said. “I expect this to be one of those presentations that scares you enough you have trouble sleeping at night.
“There are strangers out there on social media who act like they are somebody else,” Cole stressed. “You have predators online who will falsely (pretend to) be somebody they are not and make contact with a child. That is what we’re looking at, and that is what we’re talking about.”
Another aspect of the program deals with students playing online video games with people from across the world who they do not know.
“That’s the kind of thing we’re trying to get out there for parents to see and understand,” Cole said. “I am a parent. When I handed my daughter a cell phone, there was nowhere she could go that me or her mom couldn’t look at. We never had any problems.
“If I’m a parent and I am going to provide my child a cell phone, I need to be able to see what they are doing with a cell phone,” Cole pointed out.
“There are people out there who are not going to protect my child if they make contact with them. That is what all this is really about.”
Springer said this program is desperately needed, with all of the social media issues facing youth.
“This may be one of the most important meetings parents can come to, to see what their children can get on with the internet, especially with our phones,” Springer noted.
Springer urges parents to attend with an open mind so they can be educated on what signs to look for on dangerous apps which predators use seeking children.
“It’s not just in New York, Atlanta or Birmingham. It’s in Double Springs also,” Springer pointed out.
Donaldson, who has been resource officer in Double Springs the past two years, pointed out Sullivan does a very in-depth program on the dangers of social media.
“If you have children and they have cell phones, it would be well worth your time,” Donaldson pointed out.
“If you have an elementary student and they have a cell phone, it would be beneficial for them, too,” Donaldson added. “Probably even for children who surf the internet, but especially for children who have their own cell phones and their own access to a computer, (this is) definitely worth their time.
“You have all kinds of predators, anywhere from sexual predators, to identity thieves, people looking to steal for you. It is well worth it. It is going to cover a lot of stuff,” Donaldson continued.
“Parents ought to be aware of what their students are sending to other students, as well,” he pointed out.
“What seems like harmless fun, pictures and stuff like that, once it gets online, it’s out there forever,” he added.
Often, these pictures, which can be sent on such apps as Snapchat, can be screen shot or saved by someone else, who can then send that picture to somebody else, Donaldson said.
“If you are interested in what your children are doing online or on their cell phones, it’s a good class to take,” he stressed. “You need to know what is out there...They just need to be aware.”
Roberts, who will be informing students about the dangers of vaping, noted this issue is being pushed by her superiors at the extension office in Auburn for every 4-H coordinator to do lessons on the dangers.
“So many people are getting sick and dying. It’s affecting our youth,” Roberts pointed out. “We want to get that message across. There are other agents in Extension that are having programs for adults that we definitely want to target to children.
“This parent meeting will inform them that we are going to be doing this education, and also educate them on some of the dangers,” Roberts added.
Students at WCHS are speaking out about the dangers they see around them involving social media and vaping.
“If you use (social media) the wrong way, it can definitely be dangerous,” senior Nathanial Gurley said. “Not everybody is using it the right way is the problem.”
Senior Isaiah Fell noted he knows of students on campus who are vaping, which is basically the “cool” way of smoking, saying that cigarettes are no longer “cool”. Vaping is what’s in, many say. It’s electronic cigarettes that are proven to cause major lung problems among users.
Freshman student Bailey Kelley noted that internet use and vaping go hand in hand. Students see online that vaping is the cool way to smoke, so they try it.
“People do not need to be influenced by other people to vape because that is the biggest thing right now. ‘If my friend is going to do it, I am going to do it too.’ They need to put their foot down and say, I am not going to vape just because you do,” Kelley stated.
Student Cade Taylor agreed that bad internet use and vaping are closely related.
“They can both harm you,” Taylor said.
“I feel like they think they have to be cool to do it,” added student Olivia Wright about vaping. “It’s not good for them at all.”
Student Kayla Stromatt admitted that many parents know of the harmful things their children are doing, but do not care.
“They are letting their kids kill themselves basically,” added student Layken Morgan.
Cole hopes that this program will help make the world safer for somebody.
“It’s all in our community,” Cole said, “and we have to do everything we can do in order to make it as safe as we can.
“I am trying to educate them about dangers. We have to be educated enough to know where real dangers are.”
See complete story in the Northwest Alabamian.