Youth safety focus at Wheeling Jesuit

WHEELING – A new program at Wheeling Jesuit University seeks to educate college students about Internet crimes against children in hopes they will share the knowledge with middle school youths.

WJU kicked off its “Coalition for Youth Safety Program” Thursday during an event at the Acker Science Center. Classes bring in local experts to educate students on child safety issues pertaining to cyberbullying, Internet safety and social media.

The program was developed by Larry Driscoll, criminal justice professor at WJU. He sees Internet-related crimes against children increasing, and he believes youth will better relate to young college students who tell them how they can keep themselves safe online.

Between June and August, six WJU students participated in the program. They next will develop a presentation for middle school students and deliver this presentation in local schools during the fall and spring.

“We know (Internet-related crime) happens, but why does it happen and what can we do about it?” Driscoll asked. “There’s always good in everything, but there’s also yin and yang and there’s also bad. What can be good can also be bad … and also can be used as bad.”

Among the lecturers in the program is Terry Huffman, deputy chief U.S. probation officer at U.S. District Court. He noted he has been employed in law enforcement for 24 years and has recognized an increase in Internet crimes against children in recent months.

Huffman said there is a need to educate the public about the types of crimes that occur.

“When I would go into the schools and talk, I could relate current offenses and current details of crimes that occurred in the area to the students,” he explained. “But what was missing was my interaction with them in terms of being more on their level ….

“These students have grown up with technology, where I did not …. This program brings a prospective to the table that I could never bring. The students in this program will relate to the students much better than I could.”

The “Coalition for Youth Safety” is funded through a grant from State Farm Insurance.

Brittany Moore, marketing specialist for State Farm, spoke of her 7-year-old son recently wanting to buy a football jersey online, then asking for her “PayPal” password to purchase it.

“He gets it at 7,” she said. “If we think he isn’t going to graduate from and PayPal to Facebook and social media in a matter of a couple of years – that’s a reality in the world we live in.”