Internet danger is ‘uncharted territory’

  • Deana Puccio (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

    Deana Puccio (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Parental controls on computers will not protect Bermudian youngsters online, an expert has warned.

Deana Puccio said: “These kids are better at the internet than we are. They are better at social media. The minute we figure out what they’re doing, they’re on to the next thing. So it’s about giving young people the critical, analytical skills to make wise choices.”

London-based Ms Puccio is in Bermuda to speak to schoolchildren across the island as part of the Raising Awareness and Prevention Project.

The RAP Project, founded with Allison Havey in 2013, provides programmes for children and young adults, including on how to navigate the online world in safety.

Topics include social media, sexting, body image and pornography.

Ms Puccio will talk to pupils at Bermuda High School, Somersfield Academy, Saltus Grammar School and Warwick Academy during the visit.

Discussions with older pupils cover topics including consent, harassment and pornography, while talks with younger pupils focus on digital awareness, including sexting, online grooming, and general safety while on social media.

She described the younger pupils she had spoken to last week as “confused”.

Ms Puccio explained: “We’re all going through very uncharted territory when it comes to social media and the internet.

“We don’t have enough precedents to understand what can happen when things go bad.

“So I don’t think kids really understand the magnitude of how bad things can go.”

Ms Puccio said that a failure to discuss online safety could have dire consequences for youngsters. She explained: “You send a sexually explicit image of yourself, and you have no control of where it’s going to end up.

“Just hitting that send button can change your reputation, your integrity — and that’s dangerous.”

Ms Puccio said her message to parents was simple — “talk to your children”.

But she added: “The thing is not to be angry with them.

“They’ve been given all this very complex stuff — Snapchat, WhatsApp, Instagram. They didn’t invent it, we did.

“It’s almost like we’ve given them all of this and we’re saying figure it out, self-regulate, and get back to us when you’re adults. But they can’t.”

She said most parents refused to believe their children were exposed to inappropriate content or had experimented online.

Ms Puccio added: “They may not be — but you have to have the discussion.

“We say at the RAP Project that we’re not preaching morality, but that we’re teaching reality.

“Everything we do has a ramification, has repercussions. And I’d rather my kids know that upfront.”

Ms Puccio worked at the Sex Crimes and Special Victims Unit of the Kings County District Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn before she joined the RAP Project.

Ms Puccio said the RAP Project came together when her oldest daughter, then 15, told her that she was going to meet a boy after school.

She explained: “It sort of hit me that I was kind of out of the loop with social media, the dating scene, what she was up to.”

Ms Puccio said that her time as a prosecutor had left her concerned about the choices young people made.

She added: “So many of the victims I had worked with had made choices that at the time had seemed fairly innocent.

“I think if they could do things differently, they would have.

“And I thought ‘is anyone talking to young people, teenagers, about choices?’ ”

Ms Puccio said the massive growth of social media and the internet meant that anyone was a potential victim.

She said: “I think years ago there was a feeling that you could move somewhere and you could protect your child — be it an island, be it a rural community.

“That protection isn’t there — you can’t put them in a box anymore.

“No matter where we live — London, New York, Toronto, Bermuda — these kids are all facing the same challenges because of what they are being exposed to by the internet and social media.”

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Published Jan 15, 2018 at 8:00 am (Updated Jan 15, 2018 at 10:41 am)

Internet danger is ‘uncharted territory’

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