Online predators, bullying, harassment, inappropriate material and addiction – these days there’s no shortage of dangers associated with the Internet and the online world for kids and teens to navigate through.
But for as many “don’ts” as there are for today’s youth, there are just as many, if not more, cool things that they are doing on the worldwide web — like creating projects, designing artwork, connecting with like-minded people half a world away, starting grassroots initiatives, or just chatting with friends.
That’s why Darren, Beth and Brandon Laur, the family trio that make up Personal Protection Systems Inc. or “The White Hatter”, choose to focus not just on the dangers that the Internet can bring, but the exciting opportunities too.
“The Internet is really one of the greatest communication tools we have as a human race – it’s by far the greatest,” Brandon said last week.
The Laur clan and their business, Personal Protection Systems, visited Prince Rupert for a three-day stint from April 4-6 educating students, teachers and parents with their presentation, Internet/Social Media Safety and Digital Literacy.
Brought to the North Coast and sponsored by the Prince Rupert Local Action Team as part of the Child and Youth Mental Health and Substance Use Collaborative (by Doctors of BC and the Ministry of Health), Darren, Beth and Brandon Laur each visited all elementary classes in Grades 4 and 5, Pacific Coast School, the middle school, and the high school, to educate and inform on the brave new world that the Internet has become.
“We’ve now presented to over 325,000 middle school and high school students across Canada and the United States and what really makes us different than everybody else is we don’t concentrate on the negative stuff,” said Darren, husband to Beth and father to Brandon.
“In fact one of the things I [shared] with parents is that the majority of kids that we present to are doing super, uber cool stuff online. They’re being really good digital citizens. Only a small percentage of them aren’t and it’s that small percentage that gets a lot of the media attention and as a result, a lot of parents think that all the kids are doing bad stuff when in fact, that’s not true,” Darren said, a former staff sergeant with the Victoria Police Department.
Darren presented a free, two-hour session to approximately 60 parents at the Lester Centre, helping them engage with their youth on safe Internet and social media practices.
“But really the biggest concern with our kids is everything to do with their digital dossiers and how they need to understand that everything they do online is public, permanent, searchable, exploitable, copyable and for sale,” Darren said, adding that banks, colleges, universities and employers are now all searching applicants’ profiles online to match their credentials.
The personable and engaging former officer kept parents captivated throughout the entire presentation and even said that The White Hatter has saved 142 youth from taking their lives when they thought they had no way out of a troublesome texting, ‘sex-ting’ or online situation.
“I always make a promise to every student that hears us speak that if you’re ever in trouble and you need help and you don’t know who to turn to, you can connect with us online and we will help you,” Darren said.
“I will never keep the school in the dark and I always bring it to the attention of the school because they’re the ones that can move ahead to help that youth and their family.”
However, online safety isn’t just a school-student issue, but a parent-child one as well, he added.
Boundaries on what should and shouldn’t be viewed online, phone texting etiquette and time on the computer are all areas that fall under the parental umbrella and proper conversation and discussion with youth is important for healthy online and even relationship safety.
“The issues and challenges we see in bigger cities like Vancouver or Seattle are identical to what we see in Hazelton or some of the smaller towns that we’ve gone to,” Darren said.
“The Internet knows no bounds,” Brandon added.