Predators often join online games, groups and platforms that kids connect with

Putnam County – Homeland Security agents are returning to Prescott South Middle School to educate Cookeville families about the online dangers today’s teens often face.

The Project IGuardian presentation, set for Oct. 24 at 5:30 p.m., is a collaboration between the federal agency and Putnam County middle schools.

Protection – Event is intended for adults only.

“Seeing is believing,” says Special Agent Dennis Fetting, a Supervisory Criminal Investigator in the Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Nashville, Tennessee office. Fetting oversees all operational and investigative activities in Middle Tennessee related to human trafficking, child exploitation and undercover operations.

He says Predators often join online games, groups and platforms that kids connect with, and are able to link with underage members despite some privacy controls in place.

“We’re going to talk apps, we’re going to talk about privacy settings in phones,” he said.

The discussion will also touch on real Middle Tennessee cases and broader statistics.

School leaders agreed that parents and guardians need more opportunities to learn about the ever-changing technology options that students are accessing at earlier ages.

“We hosted a similar event last year for Prescott families and determined quickly it would be good for all parents to help their students navigate social media during the middle school years,” PSMS Principal Tera Brooks said. “We welcome our community partners to help our families understand what – and who – is accessible to their children. This is a significant opportunity for our district to help equip parents and guardians in educating and protecting their children online.”

Within Putnam County schools, counselors see the effects online connections have on students.

Sheila Barker, a licensed clinical social worker who serves as the district’s Social Emotional and Wellness Coordinator, lists several consequences of youth and social media use.

“We have seen it distracting them, disrupting their sleep and exposing them to bullying, rumor spreading, creating unrealistic views of other people’s lives and peer pressure,” Barker said. She acknowledged several recent studies correlating heavy social media use with “depression, anxiety, loneliness, self-harm and even suicidal thoughts.”

Barkers says that indirectly, adults using social media excessively draw time and attention away from the youth, creating a gap in communication and support.

“All of these factors start to wear on the mental health of students,” Barker said.

Putnam County school policy allows phones on campus, but the technology isn’t to be used without teacher permission. The school district uses a “robust content filter that blocks harmful and inappropriate sites and apps” on devices connected to the school network, along with “Gaggle,” a safety management platform within the Google G-Suite that provides 24/7 content review for safety concerns.

This community event is open to the public, but it is meant for adults only given the topic of discussion, according to the Putnam County School System (PCSS). LifeChurch Cookeville – South is providing free child care and pizza for children of parents/guardians attending the evening event.

Pre-registration is strongly requested so that adequate staff and food may be available. There will be a child care check-in system, so those bringing children for child care must present identification.

You can view the PCSSTN electronic device use policy HERE.

Image by jcomp on Freepik.

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