For all of technology’s leaps and bounds, it has also created pain and strain for parents and children alike.
As more kids use apps and smartphones from younger and younger ages, York Regional Police has tried to close the tech gap between parents and their kids—and also instill in youngsters the importance of making good choices both online and offline.
Though the Values, Influence, Peers (VIP) program has been around for more than 30 years—putting police officers into classrooms to “demystify” policing and the law—programmers have had to add cybersafety to the growing list of challenges facing children, which also includes substance abuse and bullying, to name a couple.
“Things change because technology changes,” said Constable Jennifer Davison, a youth education officer with York Regional Police’s Community Service Bureau. “Kids are watching all these…inappropriate things that they shouldn’t be watching. Sometimes, they’re watching them out of context, so they end up having a lot of questions about them.”
In addition to learning about drugs from a younger age, Davison said that students she encounters are also facing entirely new trials—like sexting, cyberbullying, and privacy issues—solely because of technologies that are new and rapidly expanding.
Underscoring it, she said, is a lack of education for all involved.
“These kids don’t know exactly what they’re doing online,” she said. “They kind of get the general concepts as far as predators (go), and the fact that they’re not supposed to be posting certain things, but we speak (in a) very detailed (way) about what it is that they’re doing when they’re on Snapchat, Instagram, that sort of thing, so they kind of get it.”
From Davison’s perspective—and likely most parents—the big question is how to keep up with what the kids are doing when the game is changing almost daily.
“We have to educate ourselves, and that’s not always easy. Because they tend to be one step ahead of us when it comes to this stuff,” she said. “We didn’t have this stuff when we were younger, and it’s up to the parents to educate themselves as to what their kids are doing. Most of them…just assume their kids are being safe, but that’s not always the case.”
To help close the generational gap, YRP also hosts parent internet safety presentations, which Davison said have been widely attended around the region.
The core philosophy of VIP is to teach kids to make good choices in the face of smartphones, drugs, bullies and other peer pressure.
“Just about everything we talk about encompasses making good choices. Peer pressure, and how all of that relates to internet safety, how it relates to sex, drugs and everything else.”
Regardless of what aspect of youth is at hand, Davison hopes that the program will plant a positive seed in students’ lives.
“It’s unfortunate that we have to start talking about this with kids in Grade 6,” she said. “Kids before them have made some very bad choices, so let’s learn from those mistakes and not make those same choices.”