LEVITTOWN, Pa. - Kids and teens were already spending a lot of time on their phones and computers. Then came quarantine and virtual school, turning their entire lives digital.
Parents always seek to keep kids safe while online and one organization wants to help.
"I have my school laptop, an iPod and a tablet," said 13-year-old Grace Rugarber. She has spent more time than ever online this past year.
"During the pandemic, I was on my electronics 24/7," said Grace. Initially her mom, Lisa, was thrilled.
"I was actually excited when they were all playing Xbox together and meeting up with people. Since the pandemic it's almost like there's nothing for them to do and that's how they reached out to their friends and talked to each other," Lisa explained. But, she also has concerns.
"You're nervous because you can only protect them so much and you can't protect what you can't see," she commented
Lisa is talking about the often-hidden dangers associated with young people being online, especially in a pandemic.
"The naked pictures and how nothing goes away and how you may think that person really isn't going to send it to anyone, but you never know. You worry about that person being a predator and not really being 13. I also worry about the cyber bullying and the stalking," Lisa added.
There's a Bucks County non-profit called NOVA. It stands for Network of Victim Assistance. They’re helping ease those fears by bringing messages like online safety to the classroom. NOVA is in 12 of the 13 school districts in the county.
Online safety presentations are happening now in the Bristol Township School District. NOVA held one virtually last month at Armstrong Middle School, where Grace is a student.
Pattie Cavalli is NOVA’s Education Awareness Coordinator.
"Whatever it is that they are doing on social media, we want to instill good skills," Cavalli said. Students learn things like password protection, privacy settings and social responsibility.
"Are they friends in real life or are they just friends you've met online? Is it something that we need to just go in our rooms and not have any adult around us? Absolutely not. Should someone ask us to send pictures of them or ourselves? Absolutely not. Should someone ask us to text inappropriate comments to them? Absolutely not," said Cavalli. Counselors also help identify trusted adults to report anything to that doesn't seem right.
"If anything that we talked about today hits a little bit or something that you know, maybe a friend or it happened to someone else and you'd like to reach out to NOVA here is our 800 number and other resources," Cavalli added.
Armstrong Middle School Counselor Karla Davis Jones says NOVA has brought a variety of personal safety topics to the school for years.
"We just want them to be informed with possible risk factors out there and if something happens or see something they're not sure of, get off of it right away," said Jones.
Grace says it's educational for young people.
"Just to keep you safe and protected," she added.
For more information about NOVA programs, trainings, and services, please click here or call 215-343-6543.
If you or someone you know is a victim of sexual assault or other crime, please call NOVA’s 24-hour hotline at 1-800-675-6900.
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