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Seminars help keep local kids safe online

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Friday, May 28, 2010

By Mary Caffrey Knapke

HAMILTON DEANERY — Although all parents want their children to be safe, not every parent knows what steps to take when kids spend time online. To help address these concerns, John XXIII Catholic Elementary School in Middletown recently hosted a seminar on preventing cyberbullying and another on internet safety.

Mike Dermody, a member of St. Michael Parish in Sharonville, taught the May 13 seminars. Dermody works as an instructional technology specialist, and he has worked as a middle school, junior high and high school science teacher. He also hosts a blog, Keeping Kids Safe Online (http://smartsafe.blogspot.com/).

(CNS photo)

A presentation for students focused on cyberbullying, while parents were invited to an evening presentation on internet safety. In the student presentation, Dermody described cyberbullying, a form of harassment between students that includes technologies such as e-mail, internet chat, social media websites and text messaging. He also gave students tips on how to deal with cyberbullying, including turning off the computer or cell phone and telling an adult.
The internet safety seminar for parents covered a wide range of topics, including inappropriate web content and avoiding sexual predators. Parents received advice on how to talk to their children about using the internet and how to use filtering and monitoring technology that helps to keep kids away from inappropriate sites.
Dermody said that in the parent seminar, he hoped to “open parents’ eyes to the potential dangers that their children face when they are online.” However, parents who are unfamiliar with the Internet and other technologies shouldn’t be fearful of them. Keeping children safe online does take some time and effort from parents, but it is a manageable task, he said.
“The problem is that the more technology progresses, the more options kids have and the more things parents have to monitor. It’s already overwhelming and will only get worse,” Dermody said. “[Many] parents feel lost, as do many educators who grew up before the information age.”

As the father of two children, Dermody has a personal interest in current technology and the challenges faced by educators and parents. He presented his first seminar on internet safety in response to a request by the principal of his children’s school. Since then, he has given numerous presentations to area churches, schools and parent organizations. Dermody provides the presentations free of charge to the parents and sponsoring organizations.
“I believe our children are our most precious resource, and I am happy to do what I can to help people protect them,” he said.
The seminars were presented in conjunction with the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, which was implemented at John XXIII this year. The Olweus program was created by Dr. Dan Olweus, a research professor of psychology in Norway. Olweus’s studies on bullying among schoolchildren led to the bullying prevention program now being used in schools across the United States.
“We liked this program because it can be adapted to our school’s culture, especially when including Gospel values,” said Janet Lucas, assistant principal of John XXIII School. She identified weekly class discussions as an especially valuable aspect of the program. “In these meetings, the students can truly become community and get to know one another. When students know more about each other and learn to care for others or accept them, they are less likely to bully,” she said.

Lucas hoped the seminar on cyberbullying would help make students aware of the harm that this form of harassment can cause. “Cyberbullying is not a problem at our school, and we want to be sure that it doesn’t become a problem,” she said. “The more students use technology, the greater the possibility it could happen.”

The school has also hosted other events that promote bullying prevention. A T-shirt design contest was held in conjunction with the Olweus program, and this year’s school musical highlighted the theme of acceptance of one another’s differences.

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