Nowadays, even toddlers can build a digital footprint.
“When your parents create a profile on Netflix and Hulu, (these platforms) track movies you like,” said Nelson Vasquez, district technology coordinator for Shamong Township schools. “Apple music creates a music profile to track what music you like.”
From elementary to high school, apps, watches and internet searches track where an individual likes to go and what he or she likes to do, adding to that digital footprint.
“Then there’s social media, and that’s where a lot problems start to occur,” Vasquez noted. “It can be good, but it can also be bad.
“Be very careful what you post online – let the good outshine the blemishes.”
Vasquez was one the speakers at a cyberbullying panel for eighth graders last month at Indian Mills Memorial School. He was joined by Ryan Vaux, a school guidance counselor; Lt. Bryan Haas, of the Logan Township Police Department; and Devon Volk, a senior at Seneca High School.
Amanda Vogelei, library media specialist at Indian Mills, teaches a digital footprint unit in design technology. The last section focuses on how that footprint and cyberbullying are permanent and can affect one’s future. This is the first year the school has held the panel.
“We really wanted to emphasize how (the experience of cyberbullying) affects mental health on eighth graders,” she explained. “We wanted to empower students of knowing what to do if they see it and how they can step up and help. If they are a victim, what are their options.
“The more we talk to them about it, they know more how to react.”
Vaux said a discussion on the digital footprint and the ramifications of cyberbullying are important to kids.
“They spend so much time online now,” he observed. “They need to know how to navigate when they see inappropriate behavior and bullying. (They need to know) what to do, who to go to, report it to law enforcement if they have to. (Technology is) always changing. They really just need to know how to deal with those issues.”
Haas said cyberbullying is a different level of harassment that can escalate. It’s important to “not add fuel to the fire,” he adds, and to disengage from the initial onset of cyberbullying.
“The first thing that (the cyberbullies) thrive most on is how big of a reaction they can get,” Haas pointed out. “Everything now is click bait … It’s a rabbit hole you do not want to go down.”
Victims of cyberbullying or bullying who feel comfortable can always advocate for themselves, according to Volk.
“It always hits different to say something to the person bullying …” she said. “It can help solve issues. If you do not feel comfortable – I did not feel comfortable in middle school – you can go to a trusted adult, whether that’s a teacher, a parent or guidance counselor.”
Going to an adult, Volk added, is not “snitching.”
“When it comes to bullying, there really is no such thing as snitching,” she elaborated. “When it comes to being someone broken down and hurt, going to an adult is not snitching, It’s helping you in the long run.”