ANOTHER VIEWPOINT: Now is a good time to discuss social media actions with children

There is no shortage of uneasiness in the world.

The last thing Americans need right now is a campaign of rumors about threats to schools.

A national social media trend this month involved students threatening violence at school or spreading rumors of such dangers. The trend appeared to have originated on TikTok as a quest for students to skip school on Friday, Dec. 17. TikTok is a social media platform popular with teens, among other age groups.

The trend escalated into rumors that violence would occur in schools that day. Several posts went viral on social media platforms.

As a result, multiple schools in Florida, for example, operated under lockdowns this week, The Associated Press reported Friday. The threats heightened anxieties at schools across the country, as well. Districts in several states closed schools Friday.

A statement from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security urged schools to be watchful, but saw no proof of verifiable threats. “DHS is aware of public reporting that suggests possible threats to schools on December 17, 2021,” Homeland Security said in the statement, posted on Twitter Friday morning. “DHS does not have any information indicating any specific, credible threats to schools but recommends communities remain alert.”

TikTok started deleting the posts from its platform Friday afternoon, CNN reported. The platform labeled the posts as misinformation.

Like elsewhere, the threats concerned schools, teachers, staff, students and parents in the Wabash Valley, too. The Vigo County School Corp. and Paris Union School District 95 were among districts advising the public that they were aware of the rumored threats and would investigate any such rumor to determine its validity.

The local school districts also offered advice to parents and students concerning young people’s activities online.

The stresses of 2021 hardly need enumerated here, but clearly the COVID-19 pandemic, persistent spates of actual gun violence in schools and public settings, upheavals at work, and political animosity have driven anxiety higher. As weary as Americans are from coping with such turmoil, the recommendations offered by the schools and mental health counselors should be shared by parents with their kids, once again.

Families should discuss healthy social media activity with children, helping them “realize the ways in which spreading rumors or participating in those trends can cause disruption and panic,” the VCSC advised. It also encouraged families to remind students to report suspicious behavior to a school staff member, or to alert the school district through the StopIt app in VCSC secondary schools.

At Paris District 95, parents and guardians were reminded the Safe2Help Illinois helpline allows students to share school safety concerns and offers ways to get help and encouragement. The helpline phone number is 844-472-3345. District 95 also urged families and students to avoid promoting social media rumors and instead report credible threats to the district.

Perhaps the most crucial recommendation was for families to be aware of who is connecting with their children online. Based on that information, rules can be set concerning social networking, instant messaging, emails, online gaming and use of webcams.

Those conversations with kids may be difficult, as is the setting of such boundaries. Those steps are essential in 2021. The efforts will make kids, their classmates, teachers and school staffs safer. We all need fewer worries, not more.