Interacting with young people via social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter can help them deal with bullying and even prevent suicide, says a Toronto police officer.
“You can see that kid is talking about suicide and you can reach out and help,” said Const. Scott Mills, who’s trained in social media.
Like Emily in Oshawa, who was tweeting about wanting to slice her wrists last May.
Mills intervened, alerting Durham police officers who quickly stepped in.
“He managed to stop me from killing myself,” said Emily.
“I call him my Superman.”
Mills has 5,000 friends on Facebook — the maximum number permitted — and has a waiting list of at least 750 people.
And students, even in the city’s suburbs, outside his jurisdiction, turn to Mills when they’re distressed.
Troubled Ottawa teen Jamie Hubley took his own life on Oct. 15.
The openly gay 15-year-old, bullied and struggling with depression, often turned to an online blog to express himself.
Suicidal students sometimes reach out to teachers online.
If that happens, teachers are supposed to facilitate an intervention, bringing in trained professionals said Tom D’Amico, superintendent of student success and learning technologies at the Ottawa Catholic School Board.
“The communication vehicle is not important. It’s the message,” said D’Amico.
It’s also about following the guidelines.
OCSB policy states board staff “will not be initiating or accepting” invites from students unless “the networking is part of an existing school course or school club structure.”
And at least one other staff member must have administrative access to the group.
The Ottawa Carleton District School Board, on the other hand, doesn’t have an explicit policy about teachers and students on Facebook.
The Ontario College of Teachers discourages staff from interacting with students through text messaging and social media websites — a rule that’s embraced by the public school board, according to superintendent of human resources Janice McCoy.
Meanwhile, Ottawa Police acknowledge “not having that presence and not having that ability to have that dialogue,” with young people because its social media presence is “just at the preliminary stages, unfortunately,” said OPS executive director of corporate support Jimmy Mui.
Ottawa cops could begin social media training next year.
Back in Toronto, Mills visits schools, discussing online privacy settings with students.
Before he leaves, he’ll often have hundreds of friend requests from kids in the audience using their smartphones.
“The best feeling is knowing that they trust you … I think a lot of professionals are scared. They’re worried they’re going to get in trouble.”