January 23 • 04:33 AM

Lessons in cyber safety

Top law enforcement officials warn kids of online dangers

February 07, 2018
ALMONT — Once you post, send or share something online, you can never take it back and it never goes away.

That was one of several sobering messages top Lapeer County law enforcement officers and legal experts delivered to Almont High School students Friday morning.

The esteemed panel included Lapeer County Circuit Court Judge Byron Konschuh, Prosecutor Mike Sharkey, Sheriff Scott McKenna, Probation Officer Steve Smith, Emily Sznitka of the Child Advocacy Center, Almont Police Chief Andy Martin and Almont Schools Liaison Officer Amanda Manning.

Speaking from their specific areas of expertise, the panel members warned students of potential consequences of misuse of social media and the internet.

First to the podium was Judge Konschuh who helped organize the panel at the invitation of high school counselor Sue Frederikson.

Konschuh urged the students to be very careful and responsible when using the internet or their cell phones.

Sheriff McKenna urged students to be smart and avoid negative consequences. photo by Tom Wearing.

"We all do some stupid things when we're young," said Konschuh. "I did too. The difference is that back then everything wasn't recorded as it is today."

Konschuh reminded students it is a crime to display inappropriate materials to a person under the age of 17, adding that the penalties for doing so could carry a maximum of two years in prison.

He alluded to "sexting" as a growing and far-reaching problem with long term consequences for those who participate in the practice.

Konschuh warned that should potential employers, colleges, parents or anyone come across inappropriate images, it could damage one's reputation and squelch opportunities now or years later.

"It's important to remind yourselves that anything you say or do online never goes away," he said. "It's always there.

"It might seem innocuous now to post nude pictures on your phone, but the material can get in the wrong hands—even sexual predators."

Sheriff Scott McKenna urged the students to contemplate the impact that finding such images on a phone or computer would have on their parents, family members and friends.

"Don't post anything online you wouldn't want other people to see," he said. "And don't say anything online that you wouldn't say to someone's face."

Should such postings and activities break the law, Prosecutor Mike Sharkey promises no leniency in the courtroom.

"Other than in a circumstance like this—you really don't want to see me again," Sharkey told the students. "Being young, dumb and impulsive isn't going to matter if you've committed a crime.

"You always have to consider the consequences of your actions," he said, "which could entail fines or jail or prison time for more serious infractions. So be smart."

Probation Officer Steve Smith reminded the audience that a felony on one's record can impede a person's ability to secure gainful employment.

"I'm the guy who has to tell a 16-year-old that he can't get in the military or get a good job," he said. "It's never a good thing to come in contact with the legal system. You don't ever want to be part of that."

Officer Amanda Manning, who works with Almont youth on a daily basis, said her role as a liaison officer is to help students avoid situations that could be dangerous to them.

"There is nothing anonymous on the internet," Manning said. "A lot of you will soon be going off to college and looking for jobs.

"You don't want the added challenges of dealing with the consequences of having made some bad decisions," she continued. "So be smart."

Child advocate Emily Sznitka said sexting and cyber bullying have become all too common.

"We know it's going on," she said. "We are here to listen to and support victims.

"If you're having a problem and feel you're not being heard, then tell someone else. Or call us at Child Advocacy Center. We're going to listen to you and help."

Stepping to the front of the stage, Sheriff McKenna made a final appeal to the young audience.

"This is a small town and you all know one another," said McKenna. "You're great kids and great opportunities lay ahead for you.

"Take care of one another," he urged. "Think about what you're doing. Don't make a single bad decision that could impact the rest of your life."

High school senior Sierra Longley, 17, felt the advice offered by the panel was valuable and timely.

"I think the things they said could scare people to be more careful and conscious of what they're doing," said Longley. "I think about our younger siblings who are already being introduced to these things."

Classmate Nadia Manko, 17, said the advice presented by the panel may have struck a nerve with some students.

"The program gave us a better understanding of what can happen," she said, "and that we have a responsibility to protect ourselves and our futures.

"It think it was something that was needed," she continued. "It required us to take a more mature look at the problem."

Why sexting?

An excerpt from a brochure provided by Judge Konschuh offered some simple insights as to why some young people engage in sexting and the consequences of doing so.

"Teens may see sexting as a way to be cool or flirtatious or to give a present to a boyfriend or girlfriend.

In reality, creating, having or sending sexual images of a person under age 18 violates child pornography laws and can seriously impact the lives of those involved.

Tom Wearing started at the Tri-City Times in 1989, covering the Village of Capac as a beat reporter. He later served stints as assistant editor and editor. Today, he covers Imlay City and Almont as a staff writer. He enjoys music and plays drums and sings with various musical groups in the Detroit Metropolitan area.
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