Friday, June 1, 2018

SmartBrief Award Recipient

I am honored and humbled to receive the SmartBrief Education monthly education content award for my blog post, Keeping our students safe. Thank you to my readers for your continued support, and to the schools and students that I work with each day who inspire my posts! 

Too Good To Be True?

I walked into my junior high student’s classroom a few minutes early for our session. She was absolutely beaming, surrounded by a group of giggling girls who were passing her phone around excitedly. I overheard bits of the conversation. “A boyyyy?!?” I teased, walking over to the group. My student grabbed her phone from her friend and thrust it into my hand, starry eyed. I quickly scanned the Direct Message (DM) conversation on her Instagram account. Immediately, I was alarmed. Before I could ask any questions, her friend announced, “They met on Instagram and they’re gonna have a date!” It was clear to me immediately from the DM conversation that this was no junior high boy my student had been communicating with, it was a predator.

Catfishing- predators luring children and teens through social media- has become more and more prevalent. Movies have been made on the topic, it’s on the news and parents are encouraged to talk with their teens about online safety. However, motivated by this teen, I’ve found very little in terms of actual resources and strategies on this topic. After acquiring social media packets from several schools which are sent out to families, and asking colleagues to do the same, the overarching message from schools to parents is more about online bullying between peers. Only one packet mentioned catfishing or predators outside of the student body. From what I observed, parents should proactively seek the most up-to-date information from resources beyond their child’s school. Here are the safety and privacy settings for Facebook (not frequently used by students today), Instagram, Snapchat, and (an app that almost all of our students are using).
While all students are susceptible to catfishing, perhaps our students with hearing loss are even more so. This student has friends and a close family support system but many students with hearing loss feel isolated and may be more naïve. I was able to see just how this person had lured my student but also convinced her friends. When I intervened that day in class, my student justified her discussions with this stranger because although she didn’t know him, “he’s following all my friends so someone must know him…” The other girls all agreed that this was logical. A peer chimed in with, “But look- his profile picture is clearly an 8th grade boy,” which began a conversation about the ability to Google Image and create a fake account. Becoming more desperate, another girl commented, “He wants to meet to get to know her better. It’s actually really romantic.” I asked who the most romantic boy in their grade was. The girls all giggled, started imitating their classmates, commenting on how none of them are even remotely romantic. “Exactly. Junior high boys are not romantic. They don’t want to be alone with junior high girls- they’re afraid of junior high girls,” I said. Another red flag. The group got quiet. My student agreed to talk with her parents, knowing that I would be talking with them too since this was a major safety issue.

Motivated by her experience, this teen is now taking action. She’s met with her school counselor and has begun the task of spreading the word. “I’ve seen the show Catfish but nobody told me this was real!” Below are links to some resources that we have found. Rather than being fearful, the counselor and I hope to empower my student through education, awareness and activism. Her situation ended in the very best way possible- she is safe, her friends and classmates are safe, and she has an opportunity to prevent this from happening again at her school. It may not be in my job description to be promoting social media awareness but sparked by this experience, I’m willing to take this project on with my teen.


1. Includes advice and tips for parents and teens on current social media trends:

2. Internet safety lesson plans for students in grades k-12 with increasing awareness

3. Webinars and additional education materials related to internet safety

4. Internet safety including catfishing – keeping kids safe

5. Safety and strategies for teens and kids related to navigating the internet and social media

6. List of popular apps, how they work, and how parents (and educators) can ensure safe use by teens