Cyberbullying affects students every day. The proliferation of cell phones and other devices being used by children and young adults means more and more students can be targets for cyberbullying. It can happen anytime of the day or night and sometimes it can be difficult to trace the perpetrator. In addition to cyberbullying, students who use the internet also run the risk of exposure of inappropriate material, theft of personal information and even sexual solicitation.

Dutch Fork Middle School has made the decision to take action to inform and prepare students and parents by creating relationships between school staff, parents and local law enforcement. The recent “Coffee with a Cop” event provided an opportunity for experts to give parents and students tools they need to help prevent cyberbullying and be responsible internet users.

Richland County Sheriff’s Department Senior Deputy Dave Farr addressed a group of parents to discuss the facts and myths concerning the internet. He explained the types of inappropriate material on the internet and how to help make students safe and effective internet users.

“It is important that you as parents are monitoring what your children see when they are on social media, playing video games and online,” Farr told the group. “That keeps you accountable and your children accountable. It helps prevent students from getting caught up in things they should not be involved with.”

Deputy Farr discussed the statistics concerning children affected when it comes to online activity. Nationally, one in four children have unwanted exposure to sexual material on the internet, one in five receive sexual approach, one in 17 are harassed and one in 33 receive aggressive sexual solicitations. Recent studies have shown that 7 percent of students in grades 6-12 experienced cyberbullying.

Deputy Farr gave parents the “4 R’s of the Internet” as a guide. He encouraged them to Recognize (deceptive ways), Refuse (personal information), Respond (assertively) and Report (dangerous contact). It is important for all parents to stay engaged in their child’s use of the internet.

Cynthia Ottone, parent of an eighth grade student at Dutch Fork Middle was in attendance and spoke about the importance of building relationships with local law enforcement.

“This is just a really important experience to spend time with local law enforcement because they see all of the different aspects within our community,” Ottone said. “They are able to speak to those risks and address them more than a teacher would who maybe only sees what is going on in her school or class. It has been really helpful for myself and I know the case is the same for the other parents who attend.”

Dutch Fork Middle School Principal Dr. Gerald Gary reiterated the benefits of molding relationships.

“It is always great to have local law enforcement engage with our parents and students. We are so happy to have this partnership with the Richland County Sheriff’s Department,” Gary said. “This benefits Dutch Fork Middle School so much because it helps keep our students safe and allows us to continue being proactive and shows students and parents preventive measures they need to take when it comes to being on the internet.”