Students from the Catholic Lake Country Parishes — St. Christopher’s in Nisswa, St. Alice in Pequot Lakes and Our Lady of Lourdes in Pine River — gathered Wednesday, Feb. 20, at St. Alice for annual safe environment presentations where they learned the risks of teens and technology.
Presenters included Chip Rankin, Pequot Lakes High School principal, and Sherry Hill, regional manager for the Minnesota Department of Corrections.
Rankin’s presentation was on “The New Normal.” He attempted to define the differences between the “millenial” generation and generations of the past in relation to their environments.
Rankin described three key characteristics that tend to put students at risk when dealing with technology: short attention spans, lack of motivation, and a willingness to take risks. Rankin suggested that generations today are no different from past generations biologically. But changes in environment and technology have made students more susceptible to undesirable stimuli and behaviors at a time when they are most sensitive to them.
“Biologically your brain is no different today than it was for your parents, your grandparents, your great-grandparents,” he said.
Rankin also suggested that impersonal communications such as social networking can make bullying easier by making bullying seem less personal and its victims less human.
“Through this it’s very easy to say things about people you don’t even know,” Rankin said, holding up a smart phone. “If I were to look somebody in the face and say something mean to them, it is very hard to do.”
Rankin used an example from Pequot Lakes School. A student there created an anonymous, fake Twitter account called PLtop3, which posted derogatory lists of Pequot Lakes students and teachers, including three biggest stoners, three biggest flirts and worst three teachers. In a single day, this Twitter account had 125 followers and teachers Rankin knew from outside of the state were asking about the lists.
When asked, a student in the audience told Rankin she followed the tweets because they were funny.
“That same afternoon that this happened I had a young lady in my office crying because somebody thinks she is the biggest flirt in the school, and she takes it a step further thinking, ‘I’m not just a flirt, I’m a bad person,’” Rankin said. “You think she was laughing? You think she thought that was funny?”
Rankin also described that lack of discretion when using technology makes students targets for cyberbullying, scams and advertising.
“If you owned a business, what would you do with this information? I know what I would do. I would go after every one of you with the advertisements using social media to get you to buy my product,” he said. “Just the other day I was looking up infrared grills because I read in Men’s Health that that was the way to go. I looked up infrared grills one time in Amazon and now every website I go to there’s the advertisement popping out. It’s like they’re coming after me. They’ve figured it out.”
Worse yet, Rankin suggested that risk-taking behavior mixed with technology can put students at risk of becoming perpetrators or victims of crimes. Students can become perpetrators by sharing indecent photos. Worse yet, technology is often used by sex offenders to bait victims.
In summary, Rankin described the way adolescents with maturing brains don’t always have the life experiences needed to judge good decisions from bad decisions concerning technology.
Furthermore, he said that because of the relative newness of the Internet and social networking, parents today might not be familiar with the dangers of misusing social networking sites.
Hill, from the Department of Corrections, described the different sentences convicted sex offenders face, but also described how some restrictions, such as those on use of the Internet and telephones, are currently being challenged by various courts.
According to Hill, sexual predators are often forbidden from using the Internet and devices that have access to it. However, due to the Internet’s various work-related uses, among others, Hill said defense lawyers have recently begun to speak out against such restrictions, and judges are often siding with the defense. All of this makes discretion on networking sites even more important.
Father George Zeck of the Lake Country Parishes said these presentations came as a result of a mandate made seven years ago by bishops of the United States that Catholic pastors and parishes throughout the nation provide programming for educating children and adults regarding public safety.
These presentations can come in many forms and occur roughly every other year.