Middle School Students Wow Cybercrime Expert
Renowned lawyer and author Parry Aftab, a Wyckoff resident, spoke to students at Thomas Jefferson and Memorial middle schools
Flashing their knowledge on topics ranging from the use of cell phones for bullying to lessons learned from the suicide of a teenage girl, Fair Lawn middle school students made a lasting impression on a renowned cybercime expert and might be able to work with her in the near future.
Parry Aftab of Wyckoff—a lawyer, child advocate and author of A Parents Guide to the Internet, the world's first Internet safety book—met with students of Thomas Jefferson and Memorial for special sessions on cyberbullying.
During her morning presentation at Thomas Jefferson on Friday, three student skits on cyberbullying helped the group earn another visit by Aftab to discuss the school's possible participation in her Teenangels program, which trains students as online safety mentors for their peers. When Aftab delivered the news, the students erupted in excitement.
"You guys rock. Thank you," Aftab told the packed auditorium at the end of her presentation.
The student skits received five points apiece from Aftab, giving the group a total of 32 points that easily surpassed the 20 points they needed to finish ahead of Ridgewood students and earn Aftab's return visit. Students got a "bonus point for gymnastics" during the skits, Aftab said.
When Aftab asked if the Internet is "good or bad," one student gave the nuanced answer she was looking for—that the Web is a powerful tool which can lead to both good and bad things, depending on how you use it.
Aftab, who serves on the advisory board of Facebook.com and has other major clients such as MTV, Yahoo, Disney and AOL, told the students that experts in her field have identified 72 different ways of using a cell phone to bully, and asked the group to name 10. Students easily accomplished that task, and then named another 10, even earning bonus points by naming some bullying tactics Aftab hadn't heard before.
Another topic of the session was the story of Megan Meier, who was struggling with her weight and depression before hanging herself three weeks prior to her 14th birthday. Neighbor Lori Drew, the mother of a former friend of Meier, created a fake MySpace account with her daughter and babysitter, purporting to be a 16-year-old boy named Josh Evans who pretended to be attracted to Meier before rejecting her.
Aftab, who fought to have Drew prosecuted, told the students how Drew never apologized for her actions and "has not served a day in jail." Aftab asked the students what they would have done if they were there while Meier was being cyberbullied. Students earned points by coming up with a variety of responses, including telling Meier that "you are pretty just the way you are."
The students were also asked to evaluate the range of methods that can hurt children online, including sexual predators, cyberbullying, pornography, hacking and identity theft.
Aftab—whose institute, WiredSaftey, calls itself the "world's largest Internet safety, help and education resource," also gave the students a preview of what it might be like to participate in the Teenangels program. In the past, Teenangels have worked with a New Jersey State Police Cybercrime Task Force detective who was instrumental in finding the person charged as the Melissa virus creator, as well as the Net Nanny creator, Gordon Ross.
For the next step, Aftab said students who wish to become cyberbullying experts should tell their principal that they are interested in the Teenangels program. About 20 students will be picked if the school chooses to participate, she said.
"It's not what you learn, it's what you teach as Teenangels," Aftab said.