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New program teaches Bay Area teen tech offenders a lesson

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San Francisco and San Mateo County have paired up with Yahoo’s Digital Safety Diversion Program to provide probation training for kids who use the Web or their mobile phones inappropriately.
  • San Francisco and San Mateo County have paired up with Yahoo’s Digital Safety Diversion Program to provide probation training for kids who use the Web or their mobile phones inappropriately.

Teenage tech offenders who are caught hacking, sexting or cyberbullying in San Francisco and on the Peninsula could now encounter a new official response involving schools, police officers and parental confrontation.

San Francisco and San Mateo County have paired up with the Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety's Digital Safety Diversion Program to provide probation training for kids who use the Web or their mobile phones inappropriately. The program has launched in at least seven California cities and was created through a joint effort by Yahoo and the Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety.

Students who have used technology irresponsibly are reported to the free program by School Resource Officers. This program not only provides probation training for kids who use the web or mobile phones inappropriately, but also offers a proactive piece to help young people navigate the web safely. Before offenses have been committed, School Resource Officers go into their community to teach digital safety.

Courses are divided into teen and parental versions. The one-hour teen course is aimed at teaching youths how to navigate the Web safely, create a positive digital reputation and use technology responsibly. The adult class teaches parents about how their children are using technology and helps empower them to parent in the digital world.

The course is also used when a student has been cited for offenses such as bullying or sexting, in which sexually suggestive or explicit messages or photos are sent via mobile devices. To get such citations removed from teens’ records, students and parents must attend separate three-hour classes. Those classes educate participants on the consequences of inappropriate online behavior while guiding them toward smarter choices in the future.

"Our goal is to have tech offenders learn how to make smarter choices online rather than only be punished," said Megan Cristina, director of trust and safety for Yahoo.

The Department of Public Safety in Sunnyvale  founded the program with the help of Officer Holly Lawrence, who came up with the idea to provide probation training for kids who use technology inappropriately.

“I saw a need for change,” said Lawrence, a full-time firefighter and neighborhood officer for the Public Safety Department.

So far, police officers from San Francisco and San Mateo County, along with San Mateo County probation officers, have gone through the training program. The certification process is handled by the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training, which sets the minimum training standards for California law enforcement.

ssaya@sfexaminer.com