Rutherford Public School to hold community cyber safety meeting after children stalked online

CONCERN: Rutherford Public School’s relieving deputy principal Candice Morphett with students Hannah Kerry, left, Pippa McIntosh, both 11. Picture: Simone De Peak.Maitland school teachers are dealing on a daily basis with a growing number of students who have been either bullied or stalked online by strangers, some victims as young as six and seven.
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The increase in the number of children arriving at school frightened or too scared to go homefor fear online predators will be at their house, has resulted in some teachers spending valuable learning time comforting students and acting more like counsellors than educators.

So concerned isRutherford Public School relieving Deputy Principal Candice Morphett, that she has organised a community meeting to address the problem.

She has invited nationally acclaimed cyber safety expertLeonie Smith to address the adults only meeting in a bidto brief parents on what they can do to help their children.

“We’re tryingtomake parents more aware of just how dangerous cyber land can be and what they can do to help their kids to stay safe,” Ms Morphett said.

“Most kids have iPhones, iPads and computersand what we are not realising is what they get up to when parentsgo to bed,” she said.

“This is a daily struggle and it’s bigger than Rutherford, t’s a world wide problem but if we start to make small changesat a community level we hope it will have a positive impact.”

Ms Morphett said at her school there is some online bullying. “We also know kids are accessing adult content and using the Internet to send pictures of themselves to people they don’t know,” she said.

She cited Roblox as an app where it is easy to interact with other people.

“Kids can interact with strangers and we have had instances where those strangers are asking kids were they live, who is with them and where in the house is their bedroom,” she said.“Some have the most revolting things said to them.”

Roblox isa technical platform that allows childrento create games and experiences for each other. It allows themto create experiences throughimagination and develop friendships on a platform through virtual games, hanging out in high school, a pizza place or in a virtual home.

Roblox Vice President of Marketing and Community SafteyTami Bhaumik said Roblox hasa number of parental features focusing on user safety.She said Roblox takes this very seriously and has tailored a number of filters of varied strengths for different age groups.

“If children are under the age of 13parents can flick a switch and block violence for example,” she said. “From achat stand point where there is the ability to select no chat, chat with friends or chat with everyone andhave the ability to make decisions onwhat’s right for their family,” Ms Bhaumik said.

“We’reallowing these kidsto find careers and passions around software programing.”

Ms Bhaumik said parents don’t understandthe parental features Roblox hasput in place.

“A lot of parents don’t understand the technology or features available to them and our goal is to educate parents so things aren’t so overwhelmingfor them,” she said.

Roblox has a division of its operationdedicated to constantly buildingfeatures which focus on community safety.

“We have amoderation and customer success group makingsure we have our eyes and ears open. Ourmoderation team is consistentlyreviewing content.

“We have several ways of allowing users and parents to notify us of bad behaviour on the platform.”

Se said any reports made to Roblox regarding safety is looked at within five minutes.

“We have afast response to parents in relation toanything that doesn’t feel right.”

Roblox’s user base is predominately children aged eight to mid-teens.

“One of out most popular game hangouts is Meet City where there is a high school, bank, parks. You can go fishing and sometimes kids may ask where’s your house? Or do you have a cool bedroom,” Ms Bhaumik said.

“We don’t allow people to publish phone numbers or personal information like addresses but there is always ways people try to get around these filters and that’s a constant factor for us,” she said.

Roblox has a parents guide on its website. It contains a video and gives a full run down of what Roblox and its team do.

According to Ms Morphett Mondays are the worst with parents acknowledgingtheir children have had too much technology over the weekend.

“Kids cometo school and they have already spent a couple of hours on a device where they are sworn at andexposed to nudity. These kids can access explicitmovies, photographs which they can upload. There doesn’t seem to be an age demographic and we are seeing childrenas low as Year 2 exposed to this,” Ms Morphett said.“We are worried about the long term psychological damage this could have on children.”

The school has been working with Maitland Police.“They’reflat out and there’s not a lot they can do unless they know specifically who achild is speaking to.”

Wednesday’smeeting, which is open to the public, will be held in Rutherford Public School hall from 5.30pm. Child minding will be offered in the library.

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