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Supporting Youth in Achieving Digital Wellness: Privacy and Safety

Detectives Campbell and Russell discuss Privacy and Safety as a part of the Supporting Youth in Achieving Digital Wellness Series.
Supporting Youth in Achieving Digital Wellness: Privacy and Safety
Tyler Russell | Keith Edward Campbell
Tyler Russell is the School Resource Officer for Acton-Boxborough School District.

Detective Keith Edward Campbell, Youth Services, Acton Police Department.

Scott Webb: Emerson Hospital has teamed up with Turning Life On, a local grassroots movement to create a digital wellness program. Digital wellness is using technology with intention to achieve optimal physical, mental, and spiritual health, enhance relationships, safety and privacy, and increase our ability to learn and be productive.

The goals of this partnership are to increase awareness of the many impacts that devices have on youth today and to provide research-backed tips that empower families to make healthy choices about digital media use. Through this podcast, our guests will discuss the six pillars of digital wellness and how we can support our youth in balancing their device use to optimize their overall health and development.

This is the Health Works Here podcast from Emerson Hospital, I'm Scott Webb. And this episode will feature Acton Police Department detectives, Tyler Russell and Keith Campbell. And Tyler, which pillars are we focusing on today?

Tyler Russell: Well, here at the Acton Police Department, we want to focus on privacy and safety. When it comes to digital wellness, our privacy and safety and that of our children's should be a top priority. These are vast, complicated and sensitive topics, which include our digital footprint, digital data sharing, fishing and mining, online pornography, media violence and online sexual exploitation and abuse.

Scott Webb: And when you work with students, what are the steps you give them for staying safe online?

Tyler Russell: I work with our sixth graders to provide education on how to use social media safely. We talk about the five R's of social media, which include Represent, Repost, Remove, Report and Restrict.

Scott Webb: Yeah. So let's dive deeper. Why is representation so important for kids today?

Tyler Russell: Represent, sharing a photo or comment shows others who you are or who you want to be portrayed to be. Here at Acton Police Department, we have concerns about risks of sharing information. And a lot of times when I do teach a course that we have for the fifth graders, iSafe, I try to help kids try to be cognitive what pictures they post or what information they might put online, because today with digital media, it's very easy for somebody to obtain information about anybody. It could be a kid or an adult.

Some of the stuff they may post, it could have some of the school lettering on it, information about possibly a team that they play for, what number they are. Just somebody getting that information, they might know that a student goes to Acton-Boxborough based on a sweatshirt they're wearing or a jersey.

And then another thing on top of that is they could have their number and a lot of times the sports teams or whatnot have the rosters put up on online as well. So based on that, they know that they're a student from Acton-Boxborough and they can go into the roster and they can find that particular person's number. And they can probably get a name, first and last name, and they can have an idea if it might be fifth grade soccer team or sixth grade soccer team. So they have an age range of that student as well.

So we want to try to teach our kids to be cognitive of the type of stuff that they're posting online and just be wary of some of the information they might be giving out without even them knowing it. We see people that put up profiles with either fake email accounts or fake pictures, so we just try to teach our students to be as honest as possible online, and obviously take as much precaution online as well. Because I know sometimes it may happen where a student or somebody else may has a fake profile or an account they make, but it can go the other way too. We've had incidences where people have called in about an account contacting the student portraying to be somebody that they may or may not be.

So we try to work with our kids as much as possible to try to be cautious about all that stuff. Keeping their profiles set to privacy, so they have the ability to go through whoever's maybe sending them a request or a message to go through their profile and just verify it's somebody that they know so that the information that they're sharing is something that they want that person to have.

Scott Webb: So, can you tell us about your role?

Keith Campbell: My role for the Acton police department is working at the junior high school as well as the high school. And one of the things that we've seen kind of pop up over the last few years is the unhealthy relationships that can develop through the risks that come with sexting and talking to people online that you may not know.

One of the things that we found in a couple of investigations was that some of the boys were requiring a nude photo in order to agree to date somebody. So these girls were in this trap where they wanted to be a part of the social scene, but they were being coerced into sending stuff that they weren't comfortable with.

And I think the problem there is that it leads to future trauma because that photo can get a life of its own and all too often, a photo that they think is sent to someone they trust, well, that relationship or that friendship ends and that photo still exists and it gets sent out and other people see it, and there's more harm done by it than the original intention.

Scott Webb: And Tyler, represent is closely related to the next two R's, Repost and Remove. So tell us more about those.

Tyler Russell: So Repost, trying to tell a student to never agree to do or share anything that is uncomfortable. Reposting is like spreading gossip at recess. All that are involved will be held accountable. There's been plenty of instances, either myself or Detective Campbell, I'm sure we could both agree on this is a lot of times there's either like WhatsApp or group chats where one person might post something to a group of 20 students. And regardless of the content or the audience, all it has to do is offend or make one person feel uncomfortable. So we try to tell people to be as respectful as possible.

And another thing regarding that is if it does make one or two or however many people uncomfortable is to report that either to their parents, a teacher or myself, somebody that can address the issue and report or repost, take it down or talk to those involved because some of the stuff on there can be pretty traumatic to the students, or it might have a different meaning or connotation to one student or to another.

And like we tell them all those can be held accountable. So even if they're not the ones that shared it, they can be held accountable too for spreading that information around. So some of the stuff that we deal with might be like fake news or insensitive posts, could be racist connotation, sexism, or religious content that might offend one person or another.

And the other R that we talked about is Remove. Feel free to remove any of the comments or photos that are posted on somebody's page. We try to tell them if they don't like what they're seeing on their page, to flag it or report it. And whoever may have posted that information, to block or unfollow them.

That's another reason why we try to get our students to set any of their social media profiles to private. That way they have the ability to monitor what's coming in to their profile. And their profile is an extension of who they are or who they're being represented. So we try to get them to set theirs to private so they can filter the information that's coming in on their profile.

Scott Webb: Tyler mentioned this idea of removing yourself from comments, posts, or even situations in which inappropriate content may be involved. So, Keith, how does this play out in middle school and high school?

Keith Campbell: There's a lot of misunderstanding amongst the kids, especially in that 12 to 13, 14, even as freshmen in high school, 15 years old, is the impact of their actions.

There could be a group chat going on and one participant may get mad at another. And all of a sudden, an anti-Semitic remark or racist remark comes out and the rest of the group is now tasked with dealing with that. And it happens all too often because again, you're not in person, you're online. There's this reduced inhibition in terms of using language that you would never use in person.

And I think it's important to understand that when it gets reported and I sit down with those students who were involved and they say, "Well, no, I'm not racist. I'm not anti-Semitic. I just was really upset and that's what came to my mind at the time." I think there needs to be a better understanding that what you say online is something you're going to be responsible for. And that you need to take that step back from the computer if you are upset and say, "You know what? I need to take another avenue here with my frustration, because this isn't going to work."

I've had girls come to me at the high school and tell me that there's a photo out there of them that they may have thought was private and it wasn't. Our job as officers and even the school at that point is to try and corral that photo so it can do the least amount of damage possible. So we try to find out who it was sent to and talk to those kids and talk to those kids. And hopefully, we can get it, but there's no guarantee that we're going to be able to corral that photo and keep it from causing more harm.

One of the other things that come up, especially sixth, seventh grade, sometimes in eighth grade, is that some parents could be doing a really great job and keeping their kid's access limited and really monitoring and really making sure that they're safe online, but that doesn't protect their kids from looking at other kids' phones. So I think part of that parent responsibility is to say, "Yeah. I have these rules for you for your phone, but that extends to other kids' phones as well." Because you know, kids might trade phones back and forth and look at photos or look at content that's inappropriate. And that parent could be doing a grade A job, but, in the end, the wandering eyes of their kid to another phone can be damaging as well.

Scott Webb: So Tyler, the next two R's, Report and Restrict, are really important when it comes to kids being exposed to inappropriate or dangerous content, right?

Tyler Russell: Correct. And I know I've touched upon both of these just because of how important they are, that report. Reporting any type of bullying, harassment to an adult, somebody that can go from there and take the proper steps needed either to a parent, a teacher, or I tell the students, even to myself. I know some of this stuff may be uncomfortable or embarrassing, but going to an adult is definitely the first step we try to tell the kids to go forth with the reporting. We try to tell them anything that they feel that violates all here, or it makes them feel uncomfortable.

And then another thing too is that we get to the think about is when they go on all these apps, the Snapchat or WhatsApp, they're all agreeing to terms and conditions based on the app. We're seeing kids fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth grade, that are agreeing to these terms and conditions that aren't of age to really agree to it. So we try to get the parents involved with monitoring the phones as much as possible.

Also the restricting kind of goes hand in hand. Restricting access to their accounts or their kids' accounts. Definitely making the settings private and only sharing passwords with their parents, so their parents can go ahead and kind of work with them and monitor those accounts and make sure they're being as safe as possible. And we try to tell them never to give out any personal information to anyone that they don't know.

We talk about fake profiles all the time, where somebody might be trying to get information from the kids or even their parents’ information, credit card info, anything like that, and we're seeing the usage of social media even extending over into like gaming console now where people are being contacted for their parents' credit card information, which is connected to maybe their X-Box or their PlayStation. So we would definitely tell kids to try to restrict their own account as much as possible.

Keith Campbell: So I think a lot of parents are in the dark when it comes to what the potential is of handing a kid an iPhone. I think there's a lot that goes into it. Tyler talked about restricting access to certain social media apps, but I think you need to set up boundaries. You need to have a contract with your child to say, "This is my expectation. If you violate this, the phone goes away or the access goes away." I think one of the best things you can do to win the day is to say, "You know what, you're going to lose your phone." You're going to get better compliance that way because the kids do not want to lose the phone altogether and hopefully that drives better behavior.

There's a lot of violent video games. There's access to pornography. We've dealt with a lot of that even on just on the bus. If you have one sixth grader who has a phone on the bus and the others don't, but he has access to whatever he wants on the phone, it can still be damaging to those kids whose parents are trying to do the right thing.

I talk on the seventh grade. We do a digital literacy class and I asked them, "How many of you have phones?" That'd be a class of 25 or 30 kids. And basically all of them. There might be one or two who say, "My parents aren't comfortable with it yet." And I think there's a real need, a real thirst for that education for parents on what they can do and how they need to set an example as well, in terms of the amount of time they're spending on the phone and what they're looking at, their kind of social media habits, those kinds of things.

So parents need to know the games that the kids are playing. If they're on their PlayStation or their X-Box, what games are they playing? Are those games age appropriate? Are those games potentially damaging?

One of the things that we run into a lot, which is a really strange phenomenon is that you started seeing these swastikas being painted all over town. And what is going on? Do we have this deep rooted anti-Semitism? And then when we investigate it, we come and we talk to the kids and the kids would say, "No, that's just the team I choose when I'm playing Call of Duty," which is a war game, a war video game. And they had no idea what a swastika represented or how harmful it could be. So those are the kinds of things that we're trying to get parents in on the ground floor to say, "You're the ones putting this technology in their hands, but you have to make sure that they're doing the right thing with it."

And you don't want to fight technology as a parent. You don't want to say, "Hey, you're not going to have a phone at all," because the kid's not going to respond to that. You need to say, "All right, we have this capability. Here's how to use it responsibly." And that's really incredibly important. Like I said, I can't stress enough ahead of handing that phone off is coming up with a contract or an agreement that says, "This is what the expectations are." I think you'll have a lot more luck that way in terms of setting the boundaries and setting a clear outline of what is going to be acceptable and what's not and then not being afraid to take the phone away.

I've talked to many parents who are like, "Well, I just can't take it away from them. There on the phone all the time." If they're not on there appropriately, you're only going to lead to more trouble. So taking it away for a short term is never a bad idea if you're looking to gain some compliance and what the expectations are.

Scott Webb: Thanks to you both for being here and thanks for covering the five R's and you stay well.

Tyler Russell: I appreciate it. Thank you very much.

Scott Webb: Turning Life On and Emerson Hospital are working together to convene teams of parents, teens, clinicians, and mental health professionals to discuss digital media use, challenges and best practices specific to our digital wellness pillars. This work will offer anecdotal evidence to further support our research-based suggestions.

And if you're interested in getting involved with this project or learning more, please visit And thanks for listening to Emerson's Health Works Here podcast. I'm Scott Webb and make sure to catch the next episode by subscribing to the Health Works Here podcast on Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, Spotify, or wherever podcasts can be heard.