Homeland Security agent talks internet safety for middle schoolers

Jacob Smith • May 10, 2018 at 3:21 PM

Andy Hendricks with the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security spoke to parents Wednesday night at Winfree Bryant Middle School about internet safety.

Hendricks spoke about the dangers teens and younger children face with unlimited access to the internet through their devices.

“A child with a smartphone has no way of understanding ‘what should I be looking at and what should I not?’” said Hendricks.

The dangers of sexting and sexploitation were also discussed. Sexploitation is when someone receives explicit pictures of a person and uses the pictures to bribe the person into taking more pictures and sending them.

Hendricks stressed the importance of never sending any kind of explicit pictures using any kind of social media.

“Once an image is on the internet, there is nothing I can do,” said Hendricks. “I work for the United States president and the United States government, and we still have the most powerful government in the world. Once those pictures go online, though, there is nothing we can do. They’re there forever.”

Hendricks also told the parents about several different social media sites, from the more well-known ones like Snapchat and Instagram to the lesser known ones like Musical.ly and Down. Musical.ly is an app that allows anyone to sing karaoke and share it with strangers, and Down is an app that tells you which of your friends are “down” for sexual activity.

According to Hendricks, an 8-year-old girl in Tennessee was talked into signing a Katy Perry song totally nude on Muscal.ly by a pedophile.

Cyberpbullying was also discussed at the event.

Hendricks closed with a story of a teenager from Canada named Amanda Todd. Todd was the recipient of severe bullying both online and in person after a nude picture she sent was shared with everyone she knew.

Todd eventually attempted suicide but was saved when her dad came home from work early and took her to the hospital. After the incident, her dad decided it was for the best they move to a new area for a fresh start.

Somehow, the picture Todd took found its way to her new school, and the bullying began again. In 2012, after posting a video on YouTube where she told her story, Todd committed suicide.
“I see the darkest side of humanity,” said Hendricks. “This girl was someone’s child, someone’s sister. I can’t help her. This is something that we need to know exists because it can be prevented. Don’t do it. Don’t let your kids share this stuff online. Our children don’t understand they are playing with live ammo.”

Lebanon Special School District’s instructional technologist Chris Tenbarge also talked to the parents about what the school does to make sure students are safe online while they are there.

According to Tenbarge, the school system allows sites like YouTube, but has safeguards in place to make sure the student only sees the video shared by the teacher without seeing the comments and recommended videos.

“I’m very aware of what’s on those websites,” said Tenbarge. “The truth is, when students and teachers have access to those websites, it’s a better classroom experience.”

Tenbarge also encouraged parents to be careful about what sites they allow their children to visit.


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