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Alumnus teaches 56,000 the dangers of sexting
When Richard L. Mann ’71 started his career as the State Counsel for the Ohio Association of Secondary School Administrators, the biggest problem principals faced was the length of students’ hair.
“It was right around the Vietnam War, and kids were becoming hippies,” Mann said. “The school conduct code said your hair couldn’t be longer than a certain point.
“When I was in school, the principal would have the girls to kneel in the hallway, and if their skirts didn’t touch, they were suspended until they changed their clothes. Then it was student newspapers. It just shifts.”
With the changing times, Mann said the problem eventually turned to what students were doing on computers.
“They were hacking into the school computer system and changing their grades, changing that kind of stuff,” Mann said. “And that part we could pretty much handle, but then they started hurting themselves without really knowing it.”
The dangerous trend Mann started noticing was sexting.
“The dangers are so real, and kids have no clue,” Mann said. “When you send a sexting message, there’s no good that can come of it. But there are four or five ways it can ruin your life, your entire life.”
For about two and a half years, Mann has been visiting schools around Ohio to give talks about the dangers of the Internet that students don’t always know exist. He has spoken in front of about 50,000 students, 5,000 teachers, and 1,000 parents around the state of Ohio to date.
Mann is passionate about the cause because so many children don’t completely grasp the power of clicking “send.”
“Once you click ‘send,’ it is forever,” he said. “You can write something and burn it, and it’s gone. But once you put something on the Internet, theoretically it is there forever.”
Some reactions to his lectures are stronger than others.
“I had a principal tell me he was walking down the hall after my presentation and had a student come up and ask for a pass to the restroom,” Mann said. “He asked the student, ‘Are you sick?’ ‘No.’ ‘Then why do
you need a pass?’ ‘Well after what Mr. Mann was saying I didn’t realize how many laws I was violating with what I’ve got on my phone. I’ve got to go in there, be by myself, and delete everything.’ “
He said he has received dozens of reactions like that.
“People are coming back and saying, ‘The buzz is heavy, the kids are talking about it, talking about it with their teachers,’ ” Mann said.
But one of what Mann considers to be the most important groups to reach is the one that is typically the least accessible: parents.
“Parents don’t want to know,” Mann said. “I’ve done so many parent seminars. There was one in a school district with 4,000 kids, and 28 parents showed up.”
To parents that do show up, Mann recommends the FBI’s standards as guidelines parents should use with their children and their electronic devices. He said these standards recommend parents know the passwords to all computers and other password-protected devices their kids use.
“I have parents say, ‘Well I could never do that. My child would never let me.’ And their child is 13.”
Another issue Mann is passionate about is changing the precedent used to determine what action schools can take when students use the Internet to harm themselves or others. He said the current precedent (the 1969 Tinker case) schools follow focuses on where the student is when they hit “send.” If the student is not on school grounds or is not causing substantial harm or material disruption to the learning process, he said, schools are basically powerless.
“But in the age where you hit ‘send’ and it is everywhere, why should it matter anymore where you are when you hit ‘send?’ You can destroy someone’s life, and you’re not going to do it when you’re sitting right next to them,” Mann said. “It’s just bizarre, seeing the things these kids say and do to each other, and the educators have to say, ‘Well it happened on their own time and of their own device, so we can’t do anything about it.’ ”
Mann’s passion for spreading the word about the potential dangers of technology facing young people is what keeps him energized in his career. He is retiring from the Ohio Association of Secondary School Administrators in December and moving to Texas to be with his family, but he isn’t done lecturing yet — because he doesn’t want to let go of his passion.
“Be passionate about something outside of yourself, and you will be happy,” Mann advised new attorneys and law students. “Don’t be too wrapped up in yourself.”
For more information on Mann and his speaking engagements, visit www.mann-cyber-counsel.com.
This article was written by Caitlin Essig.