New course is like traffic school for sexting

The digital safety program offers four types of presentations: one hour for parents, one hour for teens, three hours for parents, and three hours for teens. Parents and teens watch the same videos and discuss the same general topics, “so the conversation can continue after the course, at home,” Chung said.

The discussion-based teen course encourages teens to reflect on questions such as, “What happens when you publish [material online]?” and “Can you control who sees it and who can repost it in other places?”

Chung said the teen course targets middle school students ages 11 to 14, because it is “better to reach out to younger groups before any behavior becomes the norm.”

Teens have responded positively to the trainings thus far, and the classes work best if the officer can separate the teen group by gender; the discussion is different when the girls and boys aren’t trying to impress each other, she said.

On the other hand, the parent course focuses less on discussion and more on informing parents about media today.

“Many parents feel leapfrogged by their children,” said Chung. “Children are often much more aware of what smart phones can do than their parents.”

She said that while most parents install web filters and have computer rules, many parents forget that smart phones “[are] like little computers that can go everywhere.”

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At the end of the class, parents receive a copy of a Family Media Agreement, which provides a template for parents to discuss digital safety guidelines with their kids.

The document lists responsibilities that both parents and their children should check off and agree to: For example, the teen checklist includes, “I will not give out any personal information, like my age, last name, address, or phone number,” and the parent checklist promises, “I will recognize that media is a big part of my child’s life, even if I don’t understand why.”

Along with Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety Lieutenant Tracy Hern, Lawrence teaches the curriculum she developed to other police officers around the country. In an eight-hour, one-day training session, Lawrence walks her students through the presentations for parents and teens and helps them brainstorm guiding questions for their audiences.

Officers who attend the training sessions receive CDs that include the PowerPoint slides, notes for all four class types, and a PDF copy of the Family Media Agreement.

Because the program has been certified by California’s Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (CAPOST), which establishes the minimum training standards for police in California, the time that officers spend in the Yahoo! diversion course can often count toward police agencies’ continuing education requirements.

To date, the program has trained and certified 134 police officers from 61 agencies across California, and enrollment has been at capacity for almost every training session, Chung said.

At a conference in Washington, D.C., Lawrence and the Yahoo! team explained the course and called for industry and law enforcement to work together.

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