To follow on from my earlier post about John Parsons.
Taking photos of oneself alone in the bedroom is a bit like walking down a street at midnight, money flapping out of the pocket. "Hey, there's a child alone in the bedroom, away from parents." Bedroom should be off-limits - keep it as a private space.
The same goes for sleeping - bedroom is for sleeping.
More and more, John says, they are seeing cases were teenagers are coming to school on a Monday morning and they vomit with pure exhaustion from having been awake at night playing Grand Theft Auto which, anyway, they shouldn't have access to as it's rated 18+ being full of nudity, coarse language, theft, murder, weapons and assault. But they do, and it's a question of how to deal with that.
If it means turning off WIFI or handing in phones each night, it's the families' decision, but the bottom line is: kids need to sleep, and the younger they are, the more important it is. Going through long-term sleep deprivation has long-lasting consequences to their health.
The same goes for being outdoors and moving. Kids need to move: each time they "bump" their bones whilst running and jumping, they are building bone density which will carry them in their 50's and 60's. However more and more they are seeing kids with "tech necks" where there is a curvature of the back from leaning over the laptop, and keeping laptops on their tummies for hours.
Also as a result of playing R18 rated games, the kids become so used to such violent language (I think John said that in one Grand Theft Auto scenario, you had to "kill the whore so you could get her drugs"!?) that when such language is then presented to them in social networks, those kids don't even see it as a warning sign.
A lot of the healing comes from non-judgemental acceptance. "I would never have done that!" or "You will ruin your life if you ..." are the worst things you can say to a victim because, first, they weren't stupid - they were victims to a crime.
And secondly, a person who thinks they haven't got a future ahead - that's the problem. Not just in internet, but ANYWHERE.
No mistake is big enough to ruin someone's life, and it's a societal responsibility to teach ourselves that.
John told about a boy who liked a girl, and she asked him to send a naked photo to her. He did, and the next day that naked photo was on the screens of his schoolmates, who were making fun of him.
For a long time the boy suffered alone, being harrassed by people around him, too embarrassed to ask anyone for help. Eventually, John got involved and the boy told him about it.
The important thing was, the boy was too afraid to tell his parents because shortly before, the family had together watched a documentary. It was about sexual predation on the internet, and the people who'd got in trouble after sending various naked images of themselves to other people on the internet.
The boy's dad had said whilst watching that documentary, "They deserve everything they get after making such a stupid thing." Dad hadn't realised it, but it was then exactly the thing that kept his son from reaching out to dad when the son was in trouble - the son didn't want to disappoint his dad. The dad had made that comment precisely because the dad had wanted to scare the boy into thinking, "Oh, I will never do something like that then!" - to kind of make sure that the boy doesn't do something like that.
Except, mistakes happen.
When John called the boy's dad, telling him about what had happened, the man was distraught. "Why didn't he tell me!?" he was asking John and John explained - explained about the comment the dad had made, and how the boy was too scared to approach dad.
John says he still remembers when the dad arrived, and he hurriedly walked up to his son, repeating, "I'm sorry. I love you! I'm sorry. I'm so sorry! I love you!"
And then of the healing that happened in that family.
There is another family. A boy had taken a photo up their daughter's skirt, and then uploaded it on the internet. (Which, by the way, is a criminal offense, John notes. A private recording - it's a criminal offense.)
The girl got harrassed at school for it, she felt rejected, embarrassed. It went on for 3 months, until the girl attempted suicide. Luckily, she survived, and John showed us a photo of a man - her dad - sitting at the hospital bed of the daughter, holding her hand.
That dad then wrote a letter to the daughter, and it's a letter John to this day cannot read out loud without crying himself. He doesn't know why exactly that story resonated with him, but it's the dad sitting in the hospital, knowing how close he had come to losing her.
The bottom line is, people make mistakes. Even adults don't behave on the internet like mature adults - how would we expect for teenagers to get everything right?
And that's another thing that John hears over and over again, when he visits high schools. The kids say to him that, adults constantly talk about the importance of inclusion and acceptance and respect. And yet look what adults themselves do in the politics! On TV screens! On city streets!
It's a generational lesson. Kids didn't just become mean, or reckless, or disrespectful. They learned it from (older) people around them, so stop pointing a finger towards kids and look in the mirror instead.
John works with young adults whose "digital footprint" has become so cluttered with bad decisions they've made in their lives that, by their early 20's, these youngsters have become unemployable.
He helps them rebuild their digital footprints. He says, rather than trying to "delete" what's on Google, they need to start making sure that they do good things instead and put those on internet.
Gradually, the "bad decision examples" move down the Google search results, because Google is only interested in what's the most relevant, and once the first few pages of Google are "clean", things change.
Employers run their background checks, and they use Google, but no-one goes on page 10. They only look through the first few.
But of course, it starts with making good decisions instead. These youngsters have to start doing things that are good, so they create "material" that they can then use to start filling their digital footprints. "Think of it like a hole 50,000 miles deep," John says, "And you can only fill (or see) the top 6 inches at a time." All throughout that process, they need to be supported, and guided, and be believed in.
There's a girl that got sexually predated on at 14. When the case was with the police, the violator said, "But I thought she was 17!" - "Why did you think that?" - "Because her Facebook account said so."
It had started several years earlier. The girl wanted a Facebook account at 11, but she needed to be 13 to do that. She asked her mom for advice. Her mom said, "Oh, just make up a birthdate, that's okay." And in that little moment - from then onwards, the girl always looked to other people on internet as if she was older than she actually was.
And also the lesson: the mom hadn't intended it to be that way, but she had "taught" her daughter in that instant that it was okay to lie about her identity. It was a little thing, it didn't matter.
It was little things, but it had started from home.
But beyond all that, John's talk was simply about the importance of support. Families. Friends. Non-judgement. Empathy. Self-control. Self-worth.
And the fact that, however big mistakes have been done - a happy, healthy life can be rebuilt thereafter.
PS. Radio New Zealand interviewed John briefly last year. It's not the best interview, but nevertheless, it's available at www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/ninetonoon/audio/201861251/keeping-kids-safe-online
PPS. And please tell me: were you able to read through all that without tearing up? Because I couldn't. I couldn't listen to John without tearing up on several occasions, and neither can I write about it now without tearing up. I even tear up when I now read my own words here.
Because so many stories John shared with us yesterday, resonated with me.