First Compact Parent Night event focuses on phone use, internet safety

Published 4:45 pm Tuesday, April 9, 2024

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By DONALD MOTTERN | Staff Writer

PELHAM – Representatives from Compact sought to educate parents and guardians in Shelby County through a presentation focused on child cell phone and social media use during the organization’s first Parent Night program on Thursday, April 4.

For the event, Compact hosted a free gathering sponsored by Publix, Buck Creek Coffee and Chick-fil-A that sought to educate parents on the evolving world of social media and how cell phone use can affect children and teenagers in the modern age.

“Prevention, intervention and education is what we specialize in,” Compact Resource Coordinator Janae Pinson said. “With prevention, we are always working with schools and families to try and find a way to prevent any type of at-risk behavior or drug misuse. Intervention happens when parents bring their children in who have been referred to us. Then we have the education opportunities in the schools.”

To lead off the parent night program, which is expected to become a quarterly held event, Compact organizers discussed the importance and the dangers of cell phones and technology as a whole for the youth in the community.

“A lot of times we have students where most of their issues stem from cell phones,” Pinson said. “They tend to be a gateway to whatever they want to get in to. A lot of times, they can be a great tool—they can be educational tools that can be great for you and your family, but there are many risks that come with them. It’s important to understand those risks and know how to get ahead of them.”

Invs. Ash Lightner and Adam Schniper first spoke on the importance of establishing restrictions and limitations on a child’s usage of technology, including the amount of time spent on social media and access to phones.

Schniper, who is with the Pelham Police Department provided detailed breakdowns on, and how to identify, smart phone addiction in youths. Both spoke on the how parents should also be mindful of their own usage habits that might contribute to harmful behavior in their children and how excess social media usage can affect their children.

“Studies show that those who check social media more than 15 times per day become more sensitive to social feedback,” Lightner said.

Invs. Jamelle Allen, Austin Brown and Ali Miller also spoke at the event on concerns related to broader technology use and internet access.

Among the topics covered were how parents can remain aware of the number of online accounts their children obtain and operate and how they should be aware of their children’s usage of private phone apps and modes that can hide information.

Snapchat, WhatsApp, Signal, Telegram, Discord, Messenger and Lipsi were among other apps that parents were instructed to be aware of and mindful about when it came to their presence on their children’s devices. Specifically cited were their ability to makie conversations and content easily concealable from parents.

“All of those are huge,” Brown said. “All of the kids that I have talked to at the schools (have said) that is how they communicate. They don’t really text, they don’t talk (on the phone) and they’re not using Facetime. They use Snapchat, and of course everything is gone once they open it up. Signal, WhatsApp and Telegram are also huge when it comes to messaging people to purchase drugs—that’s what a lot of dealers use.”

Compact presenters also recommended that parents of children who use payment apps such as Cash App and Venmo maintain a vigilant watch on what their children are sending and accepting payments for.

“Dealing with this is very real and not just in news articles,” Miller said.

Parents were also provided crash courses in new terminology and emoji usages that signify drug and illegal activities in chats, as well as what types of language to be on the lookout for that can signify child predators and other dangers. They were also given information related to the potential legal ramifications associated with such activities.

The Compact program currently operates in six major area cities, which are Chelsea, Hoover, Vestavia Hills, Pelham, Helena and Alabaster. In direct efforts to reach members of the community, Compact has already taken part in over 120 presentation events in its area schools and community gatherings since this January.

Compact’s stated goal is to assist families across Shelby County through the provision of up-to-date information and available resources that can help guide teens back to a substance-free, happy and healthy lifestyles without ever having to enter the juvenile justice system.