Interview with Leandra Peloquin, MSW, PPSC on Cyber Safety
About Leandra Peloquin, MSW, PPSC: Leandra Peloquin has worked as a school social worker at Notre Dame High School, a Catholic private school for girls located in San Jose, California, since 2012. At Notre Dame, Ms. Peloquin provides counseling and academic guidance to students, and also designs and implements trainings and presentations for parents and school personnel on topics that are relevant to adolescent well-being and mental health.
Before working at Notre Dame High School, Ms. Peloquin worked at the YWCA Rape Crisis Center as an advocate, prevention educator and counselor for over 10 years, serving as the Director of the Center for her last two years working there.
Ms. Peloquin holds a Bachelors degree in Administration of Justice from San Jose State University, which she earned in 2001, and a Masters of Social Work degree from San Jose State University, which she received in 2009. Through her Masters of Social Work program, she also earned her Pupil Personnel Service Credential (PPSC). She is currently a registered Associate Clinical Social Worker, and is preparing for her LCSW examination this year. Leandra Peloquin was compensated to participate in this interview.
[OnlineMSWPrograms.com] What are the essential elements of cyber safety (i.e. central best practices, key measures to protect children from cyber hazards, etc.)? What should parents, school social workers, teachers, and other school personnel do at the individual and community levels to help ensure children’s safety online?
[Leandra Peloquin, PPSC] Victimization of children and adolescents is a public health issue, as it can cause great harm. Integrated approaches involving parents/guardians, school systems and community partners are essential in addressing the issue of cyber hazards. On an individual level, it is important for parents/guardians to be knowledgeable about potential cyber hazards. With the age of rapidly changing technology, keeping up with technological advances can be daunting. Understanding these hazards allows parents/guardians to be proactive in protecting their children through using parental controls and privacy settings, while being aware of what their child is able to access.
Open and ongoing communication is one of the most powerful tools parents/guardians have as it relates to on-line safety. Teaching children about cyber safety and digital citizenship should not be a solitary discussion, as the landscape of what children have access to changes as they grow older and technology and social media advances. As with all difficult issues children and adolescents face, it is good practice to have ongoing, developmentally appropriate conversations. Discussions can be both directive about on-line safety and more impromptu as opportunities for learning present themselves. Children can eventually tune out when discussions incessantly focus on rules, so providing open and contextual dialogue can be very effective. Conversations should also include how children can seek help under any circumstance where they feel uncomfortable or unsafe. The messaging around safety can come from a place of empowerment, so that it does not inadvertently preclude children from speaking to a trusted adult if something occurs. For instance, children may have difficulty telling someone if they have broken what was considered an “internet safety “rule. Creating an environment where a child can reach out to a parent or trusted adult in these circumstances, without fear of punitive consequences, is a vital aspect of protecting children.
Communities as a whole are responsible for the welfare of our children and working together is the most effective way to move towards positive change. School systems and school personnel can provide education on cyber safety, cultivate a positive and engaging climate and foster safe environments where students can disclose about unsafe situations. [I mention more specific recommendations for implementing cyber safety practices in school settings when answering question #2.] In addition, community partners also play a role in protecting children from cyber hazards. For instance, police departments, organizations that serve youth, and faith based organizations can be resources for education and training or a space where children have access to positive connections, protective factors and role modeling.
[OnlineMSWPrograms.com] For school personnel who are interested in supporting cyber safety measures in their school community, how can they gain the knowledge and training necessary to help students, parents, and school staff? What resources do you recommend school social workers and other school personnel refer to when planning and implementing cyber safety initiatives on campus?
[Leandra Peloquin, PPSC] When planning and implementing cyber safety initiatives at schools, I recommend school sites and/or school districts administer an anonymous school climate survey to students and faculty in an effort to identify cyber safety issues on their campus. Although it is important to educate students and school personnel about general issues of cyber safety and digital citizenship, it is also beneficial to be aware of the scope of issues that may need to be more vigilantly addressed. Subsequent to identifying specific needs, school personnel can research already existing successful initiatives and modify those models to fit the needs of their school.
I believe it is imperative for schools to have a comprehensive approach to the issue of cyber safety that involves all members of the school community. School campuses can support multifaceted approaches on campus that include: training school administration, faculty and staff on cyber issues; supporting school personnel with professional development opportunities on this topic; facilitating anti-bullying and digital citizenship curricula; teaching health and wellness topics to students (i.e. emotional intelligence, healthy communication, conflict resolution, healthy relationships, positive bystander behavior, etc.); providing parent education opportunities; and administering peer to peer mentoring programs. In addition, schools should have clear policies in place that relate to the defining, reporting, investigating and responding to incidences of cyberbullying and other cyber hazards. This can include employing a system that allows students a safe space to report incidences of cyberbullying and reaching out for help. One final recommendation would be for schools to have a system in place that provides services to both the victim and the offender of cyberbullying. School counselors and social workers can provide mental health interventions for students who are victimized by cyber threats. This can include connecting students to outside resources for immediate and long term support. As well, those who cyberbully others require interventions to move them to a healthier place, so that they do not continue perpetuating cycles of abusive behavior.
Ideally, and possibly most importantly, schools can work with active intention to promote a positive and healthy school climate. A positive school climate fosters values such as diversity, inclusiveness, respect, empowerment, acceptance, tolerance and empathy. A critical aspect of a positive school climate is to encourage proactive and reactive positive bystander intervention strategies with the issues of cyberbullying or other adverse behaviors that harm another person (Also referred to as “upstanding”). A positive school climate is aligned with primary prevention strategies that work to stop violence before it begins. This is a strategy used to combat power-based personal violence. It encourages students to take a proactive role in not tolerating abuse, bullying or violence as the social norm and encourages safe intervention methods when students see something is wrong. Green Dot (http://livethegreendot.com/) is a great resource for positive bystander engagement strategies.
Although integrated strategies are most recommended for effectiveness, school systems may lack the resources required to accomplish comprehensive strategies. Many schools are already stretched with a multitude of challenges to face. In these circumstances, the school social worker may be the primary resource as it relates to cyber safety issues. In these cases, I recommend school social workers connecting with outside agencies that can provide support on building an infrastructure for addressing these issues at their school. Community partners are valuable, as they can bring a different voice and attention to the issue with the campus population. School social workers can also consult with other social work networks to learn about resources provided by local community partners. In some communities, law enforcement agencies have officers from their Internet Crimes Against Children unit or other departments that can provide presentations to students and faculty on campus. As well, there is an array of on-line resources where schools can gather information, recommendations and curriculum for addressing the issue of cyber hazards on their campus (http://www.stopbullying.gov/ and http://cyberbullying.org/).
[OnlineMSWPrograms.com] What are the effects that different cyber safety threats have on an individual? Specifically, what mental, emotional, and social trauma does an individual experience when they encounter such threats as: sextortion, cyberstalking, cyberbullying, and hacks and online fraud?
[Leandra Peloquin, PPSC] Sextortion, cyberstalking, cyberbullying and/or hacking or on-line fraud can all have a significant impact on a child’s or adolescent’s emotional health and well-being. Children and adolescents may be affected differently based on a multitude of factors including their stage in development and the type of support they receive. There can be a myriad of mental, emotional and social effects, especially as it relates to interpersonal violations (sextortion, cyberstalking, cyberbullying). Interpersonal violations can be more deeply felt, cause more significant distress and have long-term effects. Some of the feelings someone may experience include fear, depression, helplessness, shame, anxiety, humiliation, embarrassment, confusion, anger and sadness. Some of the behavioral effects that can occur include psychosomatic symptoms, social withdrawal, self-imposed isolation, strained peer relationships, increased aggressive behaviors, use of negative coping skills (alcohol & drugs, self injurious behaviors) and suicidal thoughts and/or actions.
There may also be a significant impact relating to school that includes increased absences, a decline in grades, difficulty focusing on learning and dropping out of school. Often times a child/adolescent can feel very alone in what they are going through and may feel that they are at fault in some way. This can lead to the child/adolescent internalizing these negative thoughts and feelings, which can lead to long-term emotional and psychological distress. School counselors and social workers can play an integral role in supporting students who experience victimization.
[OnlineMSWPrograms.com] Are some groups of children and adolescents more vulnerable to cyber safety issues? How do factors such as a child’s age, social environment, and own self esteem play into being either a victim or a perpetrator? How do threats to a person’s cyber safety change as he or she gets older, and how can parents and school personnel address these changing threats?
[Leandra Peloquin, PPSC] Research has demonstrated variant perspectives on what leaves children and adolescents more vulnerable to cyber safety issues than others. As well, there are variant perspectives on what factors play into those who are offenders. Unfortunately, all children and adolescents are vulnerable to cyber safety issues. Those who exploit children and adolescents on-line may seek out youth who are less connected to others, experience less positive adult engagement, feel lonely and have a low self-concept. It is important to recognize that being vulnerable does not in any way equate to fault or culpability. Those who abuse and bully are responsible for the behaviors, not the person being victimized. It is also important for parents/guardians, school systems and the community to understand that cyber abuse is a community issue, not an individual issue. This is why I believe that public health approaches are best practices when addressing the issue of child and adolescent victimization.
[OnlineMSWPrograms.com] What are some effective measures that parents and school personnel can implement both at home and in school settings to protect children from cyber safety threats? Should parents, school administrators, teachers, and school social workers try and keep up with advances in communication technologies–will that help them manage cyber safety threats affecting their kids and students? Or is the more effective route to teach children cyber safety best practices at a young age? Or is it a combination of both along with other strategies?
[Leandra Peloquin, PPSC] It takes a comprehensive approach to protect children against cyber hazards. It is paramount to teach children about cyber safety from a very young age, and as well, it is important for parents, school administrators and faculty and school social workers to keep up with advances in communication technologies. Once a child is able to engage with a device, it is imperative to teach children safety practices as it relates to that device. Safety practices need to be assessed and revisited as technology evolves. Schools are invariably incorporating new technology into learning environments. Just as school systems engage with new learning tools, they can also continually enhance their understanding about what children/adolescents are engaging in and have access to.
Students can be our greatest teachers, so talking to them about their on-line lives is important. They are most “in the know” about what apps and sites are most frequently used in their peer culture and can assist in identifying strengths and possible pitfalls. This insight can inform relevant and effective school policies, as well as provide dynamic, evolving prevention and intervention strategies.
[OnlineMSWPrograms.com] In today’s society, sharing information online seems to be an inevitable part of children’s and adolescents’ lives. How can parents and school personnel set reasonable limits on what children share online? Where is the line drawn between what is normal and what is unsafe to share on social media and other communication technologies?
[Leandra Peloquin, PPSC] In today’s society, there are many positive benefits of on-line communication and resources. Simultaneously, its boundless nature and potential for exploitation presents many challenges when trying to navigate internet safety for children. As society advances in technology, youth are communicating more and more on-line. The answer is not necessarily to prohibit youth from being on-line. (Although that may be a personal decision that some make for their families.) Youth will likely at some point have access to and use on-line mediums. It is far more effective to be engaged with youth and provide guidance about this issue, just as we provide guidance in other interpersonal areas of their lives. It is a difficult and subjective line to manage, as adolescents make friendships on-line and much of their interpersonal connections are expressed through use of their devices. Just as adults need to set reasonable boundaries for children/adolescents in day to day life, the same applies as it relates to their on-line activities.
Some suggestions include limiting time on social media, spending time on-line with your child (to witness what that world is like for them), encouraging in person relational engagement and spending device free time with your child. There are a plethora of resources available to assist parents/guardians in navigating this complex topic. As adults, we are also connected to our devices, so role modeling the healthy boundaries we expect from our children/adolescents is essential. Finally, it is vital to teach children/adolescents to listen to their instincts. Unfortunately, we are not able to control everything that happens on-line. Empowering youth to honor their gut feelings in all circumstances is powerful.
Thank you Ms. Peloquin for your time and insights into cyber safety.