DOUBLE SPRINGS - School children may not realize it, but they often have strangers in their bedrooms or in their homes.
Winston County High School Principal Jeff Cole warned parents and students attending a community meeting Tuesday, Oct. 15, at Double Springs Middle School, that what they were about to hear would probably scare them.
However, the power-packed message was also meant to educate them on the horrors of what their children can face on social media and how parents can help prevent this behavior.
Seth Sullivan, instructor with the National Association of School Resource Officers, set the stage by showing several videos and explaining eye-opening scenarios in his words of warning.
Sullivan, who just retired after 22 years as a school resource officer at Falkville schools, has also been a nationwide instructor the past 4 1/2 years.
“We have 48 instructors in the United States, and we travel all across the United States, teaching officers how to be school resource officers,” Sullivan said.
That message was expanded at the community meeting to also include parents and students on the dangers of social media, and how it affects the culture inside a school system, Sullivan pointed out.
“Hopefully, the parents and teachers, if they see something, will say something and let officials know,” he said. “We want them to know to prevent an active shooter situation.”
Social media can be used for good, to promote school activities and praise accomplishments, but on the flip side of the coin, can be bad to stir up drama, false information as well as provide some tricky apps where students can find themselves in dangerous situations.
“If we are going to be on social media, let’s go ahead and create a good positive atmosphere, instead of doing the negative atmosphere,” Sullivan said.
“If you have children at home that have access to the internet, like even through their cell phone or computer access, parents should be here,” noted Kent Donaldson, school resource officer for Winston County High School.
“This shows what your children are getting into or what’s out there,” Donaldson added. “So if you’ve got a child and they have access to the internet...and they are alone, you should know what they are seeing.”
Cole began the meeting with a word of warning.
“If you are a law enforcement officer or if you are a school administrator, you hear a lot of presentations like you are going to see here tonight, and I am going to be honest, some of the things in it are going to bother you,” Cole stated.
Sullivan stood before the crowd--a mixture of parents and students--and noted he chose the topic A Stranger in a Child’s Bedroom.
“How many of your kids have a cell phone in the bedroom,” Sullivan asked parents in the audience. A few hands were raised.
Back in the days of rotor dialed phones, kids would stretch the long cords from the phone into private areas of the home, so they could talk without their parents hearing them.
Today, that sort of communication has multiplied greatly thanks to cell phones, Sullivan indicated.
“So many times, we let the kids have phones in the bedroom,” Sullivan noted. “You don’t realize what they’re doing at night. We don’t let a child take an inappropriate magazine to the bedroom. Yet, we are letting them take a cell phone. On the cell phone, you can get anything you want.”
The first video Sullivan showed the audience was called Tomorrow’s News and was from the perspective of a news cast, complete with interviews of school officials, parents and students, foretelling of a school massacre the following day and what they did and did not do.
“We’re here at the scene of tomorrow’s shooting, where a 15-year-old will kill four children, two adults then turn the gun on himself,” the newscaster in the video began.
A female student being interviewed added, “He told some of us that his dad kept a gun in his closet and he always talked about using it on the people that bullied him. Tomorrow, I will probably say that I wish I told someone.”
“After the shooting, we are going to feel pretty bad about picking on him, but until then we’ll probably keep doing it, because he’s pretty weird,” a male student said.
“Tomorrow, someone is supposed to tell us that the shooter has been posting on social media about doing this for weeks,” one police officer said.
When the newscaster asked a mother how she would explain the shooting to her daughter, the mother paused and responded, “I won’t have to explain it to her.” After pausing again, the mother added, “She won’t make it.”
After the video, Sullivan told the audience, “You can stop tomorrows.”
Sullivan then asked how many times someone sees something on social media, shares it, then finds out it’s a hoax.
“I am very passionate about this video, because so many instances. In fact, in every single school shooting, somebody has known about it,” Sullivan pointed out.
Social media’s impact on a school should be understood, so people can learn from it, he said.
Sullivan asked the audience how many had a Facebook account. Many in the audience raised their hands. He then asked how many have more than five social media accounts, such as Snapchat, Instagram, etc. Fewer people raised their hands.
“Here’s a sad statistic. Nine hours a day in front of a screen,” Sullivan said. “That nine hours a day is not considered at-school time. That’s at home.
“The average teen sends an average of 250 texts a day,” said Sullivan. “That’s strictly text messaging.”
Bullies are now doing much more than just taking a kids’ lunch away on the morning bus ride to school.
Bullying now is known as cyber bullying, where students use social media to post bad things about other people.
“Us as parents, we have that responsibility,” said Sullivan. “When we see our kids doing it, please stop it, because there are some major things with it.”
A girl, who posted nude pictures of herself to her boyfriend, became the victim, when her boyfriend began blackmailing her by spreading the pictures around on social media after threatening he would do so if she stopped sending the pictures.
This resulted in extreme bullying of the girl, who could not flee from her problems, after the problem resurfaced, even after she changed schools, Sullivan said.
“They said why don’t you drink bleach, crawl under a ditch and die,” Sullivan said referring to the social media comments against her.
This eventually led to the girl committing suicide by hanging herself, Sullivan said.
Sullivan then showed another video of what appeared to be a relationship starting between a boy and girl in high school. The romance ended abruptly when a shooter came into the school and began firing a gun.
After the video, Sullivan asked the audience to list all of the warning signs that a shooting would take place.
The majority of the audience could not, as they were following the relationship and not paying at tention to details in the background, such as a student researching guns on the internet in the library, and later showing aggressive behavior after being bullied in the hallway.
“Did anyone see that coming,” Sullivan asked.
“I encourage teachers to pay attention really to their students.Watch what they are doing,” he further pointed out.
The next video showed an inspector talking to a line of suspects in a murder investigation with the victim lying dead on the floor in front of them. During the process, the inspector asked each suspect his or her whereabouts then figured out the killer and she was escorted away.
After the video, Sullivan asked the audience if they noticed 21 changes in the set during that short segment.
“It’s just a matter of observation,” the inspector said on the video, turning to the camera. “The real question is how observant were you.”
“I show this because most of the time, people don’t pay attention,” Sullivan said. He then showed the same video from a wider perspective, so the audience could see the changes taking place during the dialogue.
The scene changes showed property masters changing a vase of flowers to the point of even moving out the first victim and letting a different actor lie in his place on the floor.
Sullivan noted when the audience was informed to watch for changes, they paid closer attention to the video.
“If we know something is coming, we will pay attention a little more,” said Sullivan.
Sullivan then began showing on the screen symbols of various apps, stating with the app resulting in the most suicides being Instagram followed by Snapchat. Facebook was next on the list.
Snapchat, for instance, sends a picture which are supposedly deleted but can be captured and saved by taking a screen shot.
“The kids know this stuff. They are getting this,” Sullivan said.
TikTok is an app creating and sharing short videos. The app Yikyak has been banned by most high schools. Other personal dating apps are Meet Me. Poof is an app where a picture that is sent disappears.
Hot or Not is an app where pictures can be shared on Instagram for people to decide. Omegle is a way to talk to strangers. YouNow has zero privacy, Sullivan pointed out.
Mappen gives 24/7 access to the user’s location.
“When you get home, go look at your kids’ phones and see if they have these on there,” he said.
Other apps he warned against were Lipsi and Zepeto, which allows the user to create an avatar of themselves to be used to interact with other users’ avatars on social media.
“You can take this little avatar and make it look like Dolly Parton,” Humphries said. “Anything you want her to look like. I said absolutely not. We’re not doing that.”
Lasso and Anime are other dangerous apps, he said
The popular Pokemon app specifically warns users that the app and its developer have full access to the user’s entire Google account, Sullivan said.
“So many apps these kids are downloading, they are getting anything they want from these kids,” he said.
The AfterSchool app requires a Facebook account in order to access. This marks yet another anonymous forum for posting inappropriate material, he said.
The Smart Social site, however, is a positive way to help parents and students know and understand which apps are dangerous and which are not.
Parent Angie McCullar, who is also a teacher at Double Springs Middle School, said she took notes of the Smart Social app.
“I want to be able to make sure that on my devices in my classroom that there’s not anything a child has downloaded that might be harmful to one of my students that I didn’t know about, that I thought was safe,” McCullar said.
Student John Hunter Tucker noted, “Some of those apps I have never heard of but some apps are just weird and I don’t know why they were created or why people use them.”
“The thing that really stood out to me is, as they call it, sexting,” he added. “That really scared me. That’s stupid. Don’t do that.”
Student Macy Till noted she had the Zepeto app on her tablet one time and didn’t know what it was.
“I didn’t know you could do naughty things with it,” she said. “I don’t like people knowing my location,” Till added.
Danny Springer, administrative assistant for WC Schools, was proud a good crowd of parents and students attend this informative program.
“You have a nationally known person who has done this many times, and he’s very aware, keeps up with all the things that are going on with social media,” stressed Springer.
“It’s important the parents know, and the students know, what they are doing if they end up on one of those websites on their phones or computers,” Springer added.
School Resource Officers can be a direct link between activity among students or can be a person to whom students can report suspicious activity.
See complete story in the Northwest Alabamian.