Shoham youth take action to create online responsibility

Free time during summer vacation leads to dangers online.

Apple's iPhone 6 (R) and iPhone 6 Plus. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Apple's iPhone 6 (R) and iPhone 6 Plus.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A group of fifth- and sixth-graders from Shoham launched a new “siren revolution” on Tuesday – a program to increase online responsibility and respect among youth.
The teens’ campaign seeks to give new meanings to three popular emojis – the symbols commonly used to express emotions and replace words in social network and texting applications.
A red siren emoji will be used to indicate offensive, humiliating and inappropriate remarks and will also act as a warning sign for group moderators. The “back” emoji is to be used as an expression of regret by the offending party, indicating that they did not intend any harm and apologize for the statement.
The “SOS” emoji is to be used in cases where group activity should be brought to the attention of adults, such as parents, a teacher, school guidance counselor or youth group leader.
The group of 36 pupils from schools around Shoham are participating in a young leadership program developed in partnership between the education and community department of the Shoham regional authority and Orgad Ye’adim, a local company that runs organizational development and social initiative programs.
The pupils will present their ideas in classrooms around Shoham and encourage them to use the new emoji system in class Whatsapp groups.
During their presentation to the regional education council, the pupils said they believe it is possible to deal with the problem of online shaming, especially when youth take it upon themselves to curb the phenomenon.
Orna Heilinger, head of the Center for Safe Internet, part of the Israel Internet Association, spoke to The Jerusalem Post on Thursday about the dangers facing youth today online, especially in light of the extra free time they have during summer holidays.
According to Heilinger, 46 percent of youth surf the Internet for more than 30 hours a week. These numbers increase during summer vacation, exposing youth to even more online dangers and increasing the likelihood of inappropriate online social behavior.
“Boredom increases curiosity and we may end up in places we shouldn’t be in,” said Heilinger, noting online chat-rooms as an example of places that can be dangerous for youth.
When there is no framework and no educators around them on a daily basis, youth feel freer to act in ways they wouldn’t otherwise, she explained, adding that the summer vacation for youth transitioning from junior high into high school is a particularly vulnerable time.
“They allow themselves much more freely to exclude people from groups, to excommunicate people, to lash out in stronger forms,” Heilinger said. While any application can be fun and useful, she said, they can also “easily turn into a weapon.”
Heilinger referenced the popular Snapchat application which allows users to send a photo or video with a caption that then disappears from the phone after being viewed.
“If I take a provocative picture of myself and send it to a friend and he takes a screenshot and sends it on to others, that’s a danger,” she said.
Parents also tend to allow more freedom during summer vacations, and are less likely to restrict Internet access, Heilinger said. She suggested that parents of younger children should apply a filter to their Internet to prevent access to inappropriate sites.
In addition, she recommends talking openly with children, from a young age, about the dangers of the Internet and the fears parents have. Opening the discussion with a case from the media or a television show can be a good way to allow a child to express their opinions.
“An important rule to keep is that if, God forbid, you come across a situation where your son or daughter sent out a picture of herself that was inappropriate or did something inappropriate, is not to get angry,” she recommended. “Contain the situation and take action.”
The Center for Safe Internet operates a hotline, open 24/7, for those who were hurt online, who saw something online they think is hurtful to others, and for parents or youth who want guidance.
The center offers advice as well as aid in removing hurtful online posts.