It’s not a secret that in today’s world, students are attached to their smartphones.

Although a smartphone may be a versatile tool for learning, it also may be a weapon when it comes to the misuse of social media, cyberbullying and sexting.

Karen Haase, attorney for KSB School Law in Lincoln, spoke to parents Tuesday night about digital citizenship in a presentation hosted by Norfolk Public Schools in the Johnny Carson Theatre.

Haase also visited middle school, junior high and high school students during the day with her presentation.

“I want to bridge the gap on how kids feel about social media and how parents feel about social media,” Haase said. “We need to come at this with the kid’s perspective and not overlay our own experiences.”

Haase began her presentation with scientific study data focusing on the correlation of mental illness, lack of sleep and decrease in student dating and pregnancy with the use of smartphones.

Phone apps like Snapchat and Instagram continuously make kids feel left out and more pressured, Haase said.

“If you have adolescent or pre-adolescent kids, you should download Snapchat and Instagram just to see how it works,” Haase said. “Instagram is also such a visual media, it’s impacting the way girls view themselves.”

It’s also common for students to have a second Instagram, commonly known as a “finstagram,” or a finsta, a fake Instagram. Haase said when she talked to Norfolk students, they said they call it a “sinstagram,” or a sinsta, an account on which a student would post “sinly actions.”

Parents can check if their child has a secret Instagram account by looking at the app on their child’s phone. They can go to their child’s profile and look next to the username at the top. If they see a down arrow next to it, click the arrow, and any other accounts that their child is logged into should pop up.

Norfolk Public Schools first brought Haase to speak to middle school and high school students in 2017. The district wanted to bring her back now that students who first heard her presentation are in different grades, said Beth Nelson, director of teaching and learning.

“Our goal for inviting her is kind of an ongoing goal to help our students be good stewards of their digital use,” Nelson said. “We have access to so much more than we’ve ever had, and it’s important for our students to be conscious of the dangers and the consequences of how they use their online access.”

Each student grades 3-12 has access to his or her own device, which is usually a Chromebook. Each fifth grader and ninth grader automatically receives a Chromebook to use for four years.

The district uses computer filters that block suspicious sites, but Facebook and Twitter are allowed, Nelson said.

Haase also highlighted real-life legal cases that involved the misuse of social media and its consequences in her presentation.

Students and parents have been sued for the misuse of digital resources, she said.

In Hawaii, a boyfriend posted nude photos of his girlfriend after she refused his marriage proposal. She sued for emotional distress and received $425,000 in damages. The boy and his parents had to pay the fine.

Nebraska civil law LB680, passed in 2019, allows for a lawsuit against a person who disclosed or threatened to disclose a private intimate image without the person’s consent. Damages can be up to $10,000 against each defendant.

“This is going to be a game changer in minors exchanging intimate images with each other,” Haase said. “I do think we will see some action under this statute.”

It’s also illegal to ask a minor to take or send nude or intimate photos, she said.

Besides social media awareness, NPS also educates students on digital citizenship starting in elementary school.

K-4 students are taught lessons from school media specialists about terms as simple as stranger danger, said Mickie Mueller, educational technology facilitator.

“It used to be you don’t talk to a stranger on the street, now it’s you don’t talk to a stranger online,” Mueller said. “We’ve got a lot of kids who are gaming and doing things online that’s competing with other people that they have never met before. Legally, you have to be 13 to have most (social media) accounts, even though we know students have those accounts before that.”

Middle school students have a digital citizenship class. Junior high and high school students talk about digital citizenship in their business classes and touch on subjects such as social media and media literacy.

Haase recommended that parents visit safesmartsocial.com, commonsense.org or cyberbullying.org for more tips and information on digital citizenship.

This content was originally published here.